Monday, 11 September 2017

Dark Matter: Season 3

Cast: Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr, Jodelle Ferland, and Roger Cross

Creators: Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie

585 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Acorn DVD Region 2

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

Like its genre TV rival Killjoys, this Canadian space opera series concerns heroes versus overlords where the influence of British adventure Blake’s 7 (1978-81) is apparent, but general sci-fi themes are a far greater influence than any specific or current production. Here, corporate war breaks out to concern the mercenary crew of starship Raza, caught up in the galactic rivalry between governmental authority and royalist empires. Following the developments of Season Two, Dark Matter: Season Three continues to blend its post-cyberpunk and techno-chiller themes with FTL interstellar adventures, pitched on a sub-genre spectrum of quite distinctive colours and tones apart from expansive Star Trek inter-species politics and pulp-inspired conflicts of Star Wars. 


Peacemaker Six (Roger Cross) settles on a colony to help the workers win independence against security forces. Actress Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl) switches effortlessly between the clockwork angel of her android character (“I have a good feeling about this”), to vamped glamour of her undercover seductress role-play, and the malevolent death machine when she’s hacked by enemy techies. The faulty ‘blink drive’ accidentally shifts Raza 600 years into the past, which prompts the crew to visit Earth in 21st century, playing creepy aliens in suburbia. No paradox avoidance strategy survives any confrontation with unanticipated events, never mind a random coincidence.


Android refugees with religious beliefs in search of their creator, with robot freedom as the prize, overthrowing humanity, and stars the final destination form a strong thread in this third season’s plot-arc, where “polymer-coated nano-fibres and... boobs” is the Raza ship’s own blonde android’s new ‘blondroid’ look, even before her emotion-chip upgrade. The ongoing feud between Raza crew-members Two (Melissa O’Neil) and Four, alias: Ryo (Alex Mallari Jr) soon escalates and leads to her kidnapping with an emperor’s ultimatum for the Raza crew.


With alternative-world versions of the main characters lurking in the background of plots, and interactions shedding light upon originals and their doubles, circumstances are tricky and become increasingly complicated as new story-arcs spin and weave between crew or gang. Everything is on the line and comes to head when an enemy shipyard in space has to be destroyed but the only weapon available causes a dimensional rift, opening a portal for sinister ‘black ships’ to enter the continuum. This obvious and predictable cliff-hanger ending yet, unfortunately, the show has been cancelled by SyFy.       


Monday, 28 August 2017

Legends Of Tomorrow: Season 2

Cast: Victor Garber, Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Dominic Purcell, and Neal McDonough

Creators: Marc Guggenheim, Phil Klemmer, and Greg Berlanti

715 minutes (15) 2016-7
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Warner blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton

A by-product of the DC media franchise, comic-book TV adventure Legends Of Tomorrow follows the relative success of Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, assembling a mixed gang of rogue supporting characters. Recruited for time-travel missions against a super-villain, to save the planet and fix an unstable history troubled by immortal Vandal Savage, who’s conquered the entire world in the future. After defeating their arch-enemy, this epic story continues in Legends Of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season, beginning with a mystery as their leader Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who) disappears. The group of ‘outcasts and misfits’ remain together and take over the unofficial police duty against any time-travelling pirates and meddlers. Charting a safe pathway between the chaos theory and domino effects of aberrations in the time-stream, to repair or defend the established timeline - even with guidance from a new historian, is not easy for the fractious crews of time-ship ‘Waverider’.



Although Dr Martin Stein (Victor Garber), one half of nuclear-powered hybrid ‘Firestorm’, assumes command initially, it’s Sara Lance - alias White Canary (Caity Lotz, Arrow) who soon becomes the new captain. Ray Palmer - alias The Atom (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns) has various problems with his hi-tech suit, while thuggish Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) mourns the loss of his partner-in-crime Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller). But the individuals in this crew must be forged into a team capable of saving troubled humanity, and the whole world, from all their fractured yesteryears to the distant future-history. 



In 1942, the heroes save New York from a Nazi nuke and meet the Justice Society for a WW2 mission. In feudal Japan, they tackle the roles of seven samurai protecting a village from a brutal Shogun. In Mississippi during the Civil War they face zombies that bite, although the really hot topic here is rebellion against slavery. Evincing a world-weary heroism that few can match, Lance Henriksen guest stars as Obsidian, last of the JSA in 1987, working at the White House. Always excellent in cowboy movie roles, Jeff Fahey turns up in a wild western where the desperado of death Jonah Hex is found in need of saving from a lynch mob. Along the way, the Waverider irregulars pick-up newcomers including new historian Nate (Nick Zano), who becomes Citizen Steel, and JSA super heroine Amaya - alias Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). But nearly all trails and clues lead to plots by Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), aided by evil cohorts Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and Eobard Thawne - alias Reverse Flash (Matt Letscher). 


There are visits to Capone’s Chicago in the ‘roaring 1920s’, Washington’s great revolution against British colonial rule, King Arthur’s Camelot where ‘Sara Lancelot’ adds some spice to a classic myth, and Raiders Of The Lost Art suggests that George Lucas directs classic movies to inspire inventors and historians. The brain-washed Rip Hunter is captured, but he takes over Waverider time-ship, and the only way that the crew have of getting their old captain back is to get inside his head with a mind-link. So, after psychic contretemps, the lanky Brit is soon back in charge. A rare space mission intercepts the sabotaged, and hijacked, Apollo 13 mission on the dark-side of the Moon. Can even the legends pull off a lunar rescue to get Odyssey’s crew home safely without any resorting to a Cold Equations sacrificial solution?


The main cross-over storyline links LOT with Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl for a team-up adventure to fight alien invaders the Dominators. Shadowed by men-in-black agents, haunted by absent friends and missing relatives - due to the alternate ‘Flash-point’ world, and afraid of strangers, the various heroes defending the Earth must learn that meddling with timelines for personal gain doesn’t result in a better world.




Finally, got the Spear of Destiny? “Set a course for the Crucifixion.” But, no... They’re off to the French trenches of WW1 on a quest leading to a fellowship with the young Tolkien instead. Doomworld posits absolute victory for the Legion of super-villains complete with clichéd, homicidal monologues. Ultimate iterations of Legends might also be final or fatal versions. Will superheroes die or just fade away? LOT season two is 17 episodes, packed with amusing comic-book sci-fi fantasy sketches and witty genre mash-ups. The show is one of a kind that’s slowly risen to the heights of being the best DC TV series because of its comparative lack of boring soap opera where the story grinds to a halt for supporting players to emote, while details of their sundry relationships are delivered with gratuitous moping about or woolly introspection. Sob stories always spoil the fun. 


Friday, 25 August 2017

Supergirl: Season 2

Cast: Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, David Harewood, and Chris Wood

Creators: Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti, and Andrew Kreisberg

968 minutes (12) 2016-7
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Warner blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Richard Bowden

“In order to live, we must keep daring,” Kat Grant advises her protégé Kara Danvers. Unlike DC’s other TV shows, troubled by the muddled plotting of Arrow and soapy skiffy of The Flash, the debut season of Supergirl presented a witty balance of super-heroics and office sit-com. Like Buffy during the 1990s, Supergirl is presented as a role model, but also now a feminist media icon for 21st century TV, and this is tremendous fun, boasting innate charm and genre humour to spare. Some of that goes on in Supergirl: The Complete Second Season, as when departing guest Superman says “to be continued,” and gets away with it. The show delivers topical and relevant stories, while avoiding a blatantly campy attitude towards often light-hearted material.


The kryptonite powered cyborg Metallo is particularly trying challenge for the high-flying heroine. Meanwhile, influenced by her visitor Clark Kent, Kara opts to become a reporter for CatCo magazine, working for news-room editor Snapper Carr, a grouchy kind of Lou Grant as a stickler for top quality journalism, and staunch defender of the Fourth Estate. In the absence of Calista Flockhart’s corporate diva Cat Grant, it’s this revisionist version of Snapper Carr (winningly portrayed by Ian Gomez) who becomes the heart of maturity offering an intelligent perspective for the second season. Despite his on-screen presence in only eight episodes, his grumpy charisma overshadows most of the office scenes, even when he’s off-stage. “A half-truth is a whole lie.”   



Welcome To Earth features ex-Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as the President, offering an ‘alien amnesty act’ to calm immigration problems, while several new ETs appear, with or without any dramatic space-ship arrival events. There are cage fights for alien gladiators, cop cars in orbit, and yet more sci-fi weapons alongside references to the climate change debate, lesbian angst, and questions of moral prejudice or social responsibility, producing unhappy lives with brave smiles.



Contending with a monster called Parasite, Martian mutation, a theft of Kryptonian blood, deportation instead of execution, while alien bounty-hunters are after Supergirl - wanted: dead or alive, our supreme young super-heroine tackles mightier menaces that her lesser costumed colleagues - in TV shows Arrow, and The Flash, are simply unable to overcome. 
The cross-over event for this year is the Dominators alien-invaders storyline that’s out on standalone DVD as Invasion.




The show’s mix of sci-fi themes also has medical a nano-tech manifestation that becomes a weaponised swarm, while guest star appearances as familiar DC characters bring unexpected returns for apparent betrayal, predictable farewells for the common good, and extra-legal shenanigans, in contrast with the dos & don’ts for rom-com dates. Supergirl and some DEO agents confront insidious villainy from the Cadmus cabal that’s led by Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong). Teri Hatcher and Kevin Sorbo play alien parents, the Queen and King of planet Daxam. Unfortunately, there is more dreary soap opera instead of appealing sitcom routines this season, and Supergirl slips down the rating chart. While this remains a better show than Arrow and The Flash, DC comics on TV is now easily dominated by its breakaway adventure series Legends Of Tomorrow.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Resident Evil: Vendetta

Voice cast: Kevin Dorman, Matthew Mercer, and Erin Cahill

Director: Takanori Tsujimoto

97 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray region free  

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton  

“Tomorrow, the world will be a different place.” The cross-genre appeal of Resident Evil is especially impressive in three varied particulars, as it cleverly evokes the burning cities of apocalyptic sci-fi, the sweaty anxiety of haunted house fantasy, and the grisly splatter of dismemberment horror. In this third CG animated feature, the heroes tackle a villain who intends to destroy New York with a new strain of the deadly virus. There’s floppy-haired maverick agent Leon (Matthew Mercer), hard-boiled but sympathetic soldier Chris (Kevin Dorman), and the newcomer is adorably cute professor Rebecca (Erin Cahill), who is not afraid to tell off the boys, and knock sense into their stubborn or selfish attitudes. With a support crew in tow, this trio face the monstrous machinations of Arias, the businessman creating zombies as commercial products - to feed his quest for diabolical vengeance and to fund an apparent vanity for tailored suits, just like a typical James Bond nemesis.


Here, standard displays of action movie hardware (“Dibs on the bike”), and urban scenes are often indistinguishable from live-action counterparts, while the leading players are all depicted via the aid of with state-of-the-art motion capture techniques. Digital characters in this movie are enhanced so that every shrug, twitch, blink, smirk, and small gesture is rendered by digital artists with exquisite care and textured magic. If some minor bouts of stillness and the general lack of micro-expressions might sometimes make the main stars appear wooden in terms of performance values, let us not forget how stoicism and wholly professional calm are also traits of characters in these genre scenarios that are worthy of emulation.



Resident Evil: Vendetta boasts a storytelling verve and chaptering that is well achieved by grimly tragic twists or absurdly comic turns. Shoot ‘em up episodes are de rigueur for this milieu, as are some advanced weapons as tools of the mayhem trade, monsters as a merchandise traffic, and the overtly sexualised, ultra-violent blonde villainess. Solidarity among the survivors is what makes the premise most interesting as it provides a credible humanity in this amoral world of inhumanity to people alongside a worship of wealth and power, clearly reflecting the concerns of 21st century reality. With a plot-line that all but laughs at the anti-vaccine propaganda that seems to be closely related to stupid fears of science and technology, this movie also astutely references The Bride Of Frankenstein as wittily as Frankenhooker did. Where this franchise best helps to redefine the comic-book conventions of protagonist versus antagonist is in its presentation of ultimate showdowns featuring an evil mastermind and superhuman henchman combined into a single menace.      



Disc extras:
  • Filmmaker audio commentary
  • Stills gallery
  • CGI To Reality: The Creature featurette (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • CGI To Reality: Designing Vendetta featurette (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • Motion Capture Set Tour with Dante Carver (exclusive to Blu-ray)

Bonus disc exclusive to Blu-ray:
  • B.S.A.A. Mission Briefing: Combat Arias
  • Designing The World Of Vendetta featurette
  • 2016 Tokyo Game Show footage

Monday, 31 July 2017

Dreamscape

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, and David Patrick Kelly

Director: Joseph Ruben

99 minutes (15) 1984
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Second Sight blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The Pom-Pom Girls and Money Train), Dreamscape stars Dennis Quaid as Alex Gardner, a young man who uses his psychic abilities to make money. Rather than help make a local hood rich, Alex agrees to work with his mentor Dr Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) on a research project in which ESPers can ‘dream-link’ into the minds of troubled individuals. The goal is to determine the power of dreams and nightmares, and subsequently remedy deep psychological problems that manifest most clearly in the world of the subconscious.

While Novotny, Alex, and psychologist and love interest Jane (Kate Capshaw), address problems such as a husband’s impotence in a comedy relief sequence, and a child’s ‘Snakeman’ nightmare in a horror sequence, the US President (Eddie Albert) is plagued by nightmares that he will someday destroy the world through the use of nuclear weapons. To help these dreams come true, bad guy Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) recruits Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly), also a talented ESPer but one with homicidal tendencies.


The movie’s climax takes place within the President’s dream world, with Tommy Ray using martial arts - which Alex manages to defeat with a single blow (very unlikely!), and assuming the Snakeman’s form in an attempt to kill the president in his dream. Alex responds with a psychological secret of his own and, in the end, manages to kill Tommy Ray in his sleep, rescue the President, and save the world. Dreamscape was the prototype film of its kind, setting the trend for films such as A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Cell. For its time the special effects are solid if not a bit cheesy, and the performances are either over-the-top (Quaid) or wooden (Capshaw). The story itself is compelling and the screenplay adequate, and although some of the sequences are exciting, when combined the pieces feel disjointed and weak.



Restored with 2K scan for this hi-def release.
Bonus material:
  • The Actor's Journey interview with Dennis Quaid
  • Dreamscapes And Dreammakers - retrospective including interviews with Ruben,co-writer David Loughery, actor David Patrick Kelly, and members of the special effects dept.
  • Nightmares And Dreamsnakes - looks back at the Snakeman with Craig Reardon, David Patrick Kelly, and others
  • In-depth conversation between producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and co-writer/ producer Chuck Russell
  • Commentary track with Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery, and Craig Reardon
  • Snakeman test footage
  • Stills gallery



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Power Rangers

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, R.J. Cyler, Ludi Lin, and Becky G.

Director: Dean Israelite

124 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B
[Released 31st July]

Rating: 6/10
Review by Donald Morefield

In the wake of the revamped Ninja Turtles movies, Saban’s Power Rangers starts on a Cenozoic era Earth where conflict between injured hero Zordon (Bryan Cranston) versus evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who chews up any scenery with gusto, is interrupted by a meteor strike that devastates the planet. This is a surprisingly dramatic prologue that’s intended to evoke a legendary tone for what follows, although much of it is quite broadly humorous.       

About 66 million years later, college prankster and aimless quarterback Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the survivor of a car crash, finds himself punished by detention along with other naughty kids, ex-cheerleader Kimberley (Naomi Scott), techie Billy (R.J. Cryler), who is “on the spectrum,” plus lonesome diver Trini (Becky G.), and crazy guy Zack (Ludi Lin). 


Together, they escape from The Breakfast Club (1985) conventions, to embark on a far grander adventure, unearthing power coins, and finding a long-buried alien spaceship crewed by a kind of Mr Explainer droid. Slowly but surely the gang develops, throughout a training schedule, from delinquent friends to a team of demi-gods.


Man Of Steel meets Green Lantern is a measure of this movie’s obvious genre influences, while its super-team origin story is an engagingly worthwhile mythology building exercise - not unlike Transformers and Pacific Rim. For the first 90 minutes, drama is limited to character set-ups, establishing rather than re-building cartoonish icons for a 21st century audience already familiar with Marvel and DC mainstays in live-action extravaganzas. 


Then we get just 20 minutes of visual effects and fighting against an army of zords that combine into a gigantic golden enemy, with young heroes in their colour-coded space rangers' armoured suits (red, pink, blue, black, and yellow), driving ‘dinosaur’ cars that contribute to, if they do not directly cause, massive small-town property damage.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Elite Force: Operation Mekong

Cast: Joyce Wenjuan Feng, Baoguo Chen, Xudong Wu, Ganesh Acharya, and Carl Ng

Director: Dante Lam

124 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Cine Asia DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Rob Marshall

Based upon a true story about a massacre of Chinese fishermen by river pirates, action blockbuster adventure Elite Force: Operation Mekong (aka: Operation Mekong), from director Dante Lam, combines dizzyingly-fast chases, hectic bouts of martial arts, some mind-boggling stunts, and well orchestrated explosive shoot-outs galore. Focusing on the ‘Golden Triangle’ drug trade along the Mekong river, depicted here as a gateway from hell with the bitter irony that such beautifully verdant landscapes are a major source of global miseries, like addiction and violent crime, and Naw Khar is a kingpin who’s Tony Montana-style crazy enough to join in a gun-battle with his gold-plated Kalashnikov.


This is a slickly polished production with high shooting ratio and its brisk pacing, for an international and multi-lingual action thriller, that’s colourful and vivid with high impact visuals, compares favourably with Hollywood’s best. The movie’s police heroes include undercover agents who must appeal to gangsters’ vanity and glossy over-ambition to insinuate themselves and their spying efforts into an criminal world ruled by egotistical paranoia. The feature excels when it comes to a smooth integration of hi-tech gadgets into a traditional narrative of dogged cops and sinister crooks in the business-as-usual facade of creating and maintaining a monopoly.



Somewhat amusingly, even in the busiest moments of all this blistering mayhem, there's a directorial / auteurial concern expressed for the relative safety of babies (endangered in a shopping centre) and dogs (pathfinder across a minefield) put in jeopardy, but its characters are generally closer to eastern stoicism than the more familiar blubbering sentimentality that bedevils many Asian pictures. And yet, for every small victory over chaos and inhumanity, there’s a heavy price to be paid in blood, such as lethal terrorist bombings as reprisals for arrests. The final raid on a jungle camp delivers on a promise of fantastic action with selfless sacrifice and practical heroics in a high-stakes display of helicopters, pyrotechnics and gun-play.