The All-New X-men: Ghosts of Cyclops

It would be a boring review if it were to start with something as terrible as a ‘look up convoluted in the dictionary, and you’ll find the history of the X-men as an example.’ Yep, boring, and lazy reviewing as well, so we won’t do that.

That’s not to say it’s not the absolute truth though. The X-men was nothing short of an absolute brilliant comics in the 80s, but it’s, and more specifically Wolverine’s, popularity came in the 90s at a terrible price.

Sure, the X-men cartoon was amazing, even though it starred lame jerk Gambit, but the comics were truly some of the worst in the history of comics as Marvel, close to going bankrupt, did everything from emulating comics industry bad-boys Image Comics’ style, to deciding that almost everyone was a bloody mutant.

Thankfully, since the turn of the century, and with the popularity of the X-men films, Marvel have attempted to clean up the mutant part of the Marvel universe… even if the films, also, became someone convoluted and confusing.

One of the interesting things that Marvel did was use their time travel deus ex machina (a cure-all for so many awkward story ideas) to attempt to ‘fix’ things by having the original X-men pulled out of time and transported to ‘now’ so they can not become who they do. Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, could be confronted by her possession by the Phoenix Force, and Scott Summers, Cyclops, could perhaps find himself to not become the seemingly megalomaniacal leader of all mutants.

Unfortunately, the ‘all-new’ Scott Summers is so horrified by his future self, that he wants to avoid being Cyclops at all, so he goes off-grid, separating himself from the All New X-men (whose ranks include the new Iceman, Beast and Angel, Wolverine (ex-X-23), Kid Apocalypse and Idie), until a mutant terrorist group called The Ghosts of Cyclops rise up in an attempt to continue Cyclops’ work, and Scott finds himself in a position where he has to reveal himself to stop them.

Story: This story is written by Dennis Hopeless who has given us an interesting take on the X-Men, and the exploration of a young man’s fear of becoming something horrible is an interesting look at the normally stoic Scott Summers character. Unfortunately, the second part of this trade paperback is a fairly stock standard cliff hanger starring the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, that only has half the story and therefore becomes somewhat anticlimactic.

Score: ***1/2

Art: The Official Marvel Try-out Book Winner Mark Bagley is Marvel’s version of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful. Bag key seems to have consistently been working for Marvel since the 80s and he offers the same quality of work that he always has, which is reminiscent of John Byrne’s 70s work. It’s is functional, reads easy and looks nice. The end if this book also features some alternate covers by Ron Lim, Ed Piskor, Pascal Ferry, June Brigman, Janet Lee and Rob Liefeld.

Score: ***

The Haunting (1999)

Film: The 90s were a time where horror was really suffering. The idea of creating a franchise rather than good, quality horror, due to the popularity of Jason, Michael and Freddy, had become paramount to the studios and it didn’t kill the genre, but it certainly put it on life support.

The Blair Witch Project was a clever manipulation of the general populace with a crappy film made interesting by the suggestion that is was real, and many people fell for it. It want u til Scream thoigh that Wes Craven really pulled horror back from being like westerns or musicals: only made now and again for nostalgias sake.

Another thing that saved horror in the late 90s and early 2000s was the remake, the idea that taking an older film and redoing it. Not a new idea surely, especially when you consider the popularity of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Chuck Russell’s The Blob. Also, taking a film from another country and making an English version of it seemed to really give the genre a kick in the pants. Yep, remakes were the way to go…

Unfortunately, and I’m burying the lead here, The Haunting possibly wasn’t a great choice.

The Haunting is a close to the book film, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and this version was written by Road to Perdition’s David Self and directed by Speed’s Jan De Bont.

It’s tells of Nell (Lili Taylor) who after 11 years of taking care of her ill mother, has joined a group including Theo (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Luke (Owen Wilson) of people with sleep disorders, collected together by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson), at Hill House, a beautiful old mansion with a hidden secret.

The house isn’t the only thing Wilma secret though, Dr. Marrow hasn’t brought them to the house for an insomnia study… no, he had brought them together to study fear, and house suggestions can make the human mind create a false narrative, but what he didn’t expect was that the house MIGHT just actually be haunted…

This film starts of with a casting choice that’s pretty impressive. Taylor, Neeson and Zeta Jones are really quite adept at the character archetypes they create (the shut-in, the nutty doctor and the slut) but unfortunately Wilson sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure he’s fun in the comedies he’s been in, but here he feels like he’s taking nothing seriously. I’m not sure if De Bont thought he could take the bone-headed surfer dude-type and make him a serious actor route again, like he did with Keanu Reeves in Speed, but it doesn’t work here. He seems to take none of it seriously, and that’s a detriment to the story, which is a shame because with the right cast this could have been ok… even a challenger to the other remake about a haunted house that came out at a similar time, The House on Haunted Hill.

It is, however, nice to see cameos from Marian Seldes and Bruce Dern.

Unfortunately the visual aspirations of the film were possibly a little high too. There are several cgi effects that are so bad… SO BAD… that it’s hard to take the film seriously. I’m not a fan of bagging a film too much due to its effects, I’ve seen some films with truly DIRE special effects, but these are really horrible. A product of the time, sure, but terrible.

On the flipside if that, the set design is grand, and majestic, and overdone as some if those old mansions were!

It’s final and main problem is it’s just not good! The story is fine, but the jump scares aren’t jump scares, and the slow burn scares just don’t work. It’s never truly a scary film as a movie about scary ghosts SHOULD be!

Another issue I have with this film is the packaging. Lili Taylor is clearly the star of this film, but she is 4th billed on the cover, and in the original marketing. She’s a fine actor and that’s a bloody crime!

On a good note though is the quality of this Bluray. The image is super bright and crisp and presented in a 2.35:1 image, and the audio, which will really work out your bass channel, is presented in Dolby DTS-HD MA 5.1.

Even though the accuracy to the novel is lacking, the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House is a more entertaining prospect, you’d honestly be better off watching that.

Score: **1/2

Extras: Absolutely nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s not really very interesting, so no.

Doctor Stone Volume 1

Doctor Stone Volume 1

I’ve been trying to get through the embarrassing amount of manga I haven’t read, and was reminded, whilst looking at the pile, that a friend of mine had suggested that I, with my interest in science, sci-fi and teen movies, would probably appreciate a series with story by Riichiro Inagaki and art by Boichi called Dr Stone.

It’s just an average, but when a weird flash of light turns everyone to stone, mankind’s history comes to a catastrophic halt. Senku, a super intelligent high school student, kept his consciousness alive by counting nonstop for several thousand years before achieving the will power to burst out of his stone form… but not without his skin maintaining a couple of cracks from his stone form.

A year and a half later, his friend, Taiju, who is super strong but somewhat of a dummy, managed to break out through his not-stop thinking about the love of his life, Yuzurina, whom he was on the way to meet when the flash happened, and is now also stone.

The two start to research a ‘cure’ to the stone disease, and are on the right track when they are attacked by lions, and have to release the toughest fighter they know, Tsukasa Shishio, who subsequently dispatches the lions.

They also release Yuzurina, but soon they discover that Tsukasa and them have different values.

Whilst Senku and his pals are attempting to get life back to where it was all those thousands of years ago, Tsukasa thinks that all adults should be killed so the children can start the world over again… and so he starts smashing the stone adults…

This manga is extraordinarily surprising. At its surface, it’s a sci-fi mystery, but once you start dipping into it, it seems to be a massive moral story, but unusually with the GOOD guy wanting the corporation fuelled society back so he can indulge in his scientific and technological exploits. The writing is extremely tight, though occasionally leans into a bit of American catch-phrase-isms.

The art is extraordinarily beautiful, and all the characters are, probably deliberately, statuesque, and the action scenes are a joy to the eye.

Score: ****

Video Nasties: Draconian Days aka Video Nasties The Definitive Guide: Part 2 (2014)

Film: I wonder if Jake West realised that his first documentary about banned films, called Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Video Tape, was going to be such an amazing piece of work. I have to say that there is probably only two documentary films series that I really could watch as much as I watch regular cinema, they are these two films, and a Gary Hustwit series of three films called Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanised (a loose series starting with regular things we see every day, but looked at from a design point of view (if you haven’t seen them, give them a watch!))

The first film in this series, reviewed elsewhere on this very site, dealt with the banned films of the so-called ‘video nasty’ era in the UK, whereas this film deals with the fallout; the censorship and movie classification under the direction of the Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), James Ferman.

It’s an interesting look at the pointlessness of having both censorship and classification, as they don’t work together: why have an age related classification of (18) if you are then going to cut it?

It makes no sense.

The reasoning behind it damaging people psychologically wasn’t proven then, and nor is it proven now… and if these films are so bad, why do the censors get to watch them? What makes THEM above us… and why is age a level for censorship? I know immature 50 year olds (I am one) and I’ve observed 20 years old far more mature than me… and hang on, what is maturity anyways?

It also steeps into the specifics of ridiculousness of some decisions. For example, nunchucks and ninja stars were seen as problematic weapons for films, so those films were rejected or edited. This led to cuts made to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

Yep.

It would seem that Ferman’s rule seemed to become an excuse for him to exert his lost career as a director and re-cut others films. One of his criticisms claims he made ‘censorship by stealth’.

This film features interviews with everyone involved, from ex-BBFC employees, government officials, film-makers, film journalists and so many others that it presents a quite an even discussion about censorship, especially considering some of the interviewees have such varied opinions about what is ‘good’ censorship, and when does it become borderline fascism? There is also a lot of supplementary material from the time that shows how moral panic can lead to dangerous societal results.

This documentary seems to be far more relevant now with the rise of the so-called ‘cancel culture’. Is it right to delete art because it doesn’t stand up to current standards? If we delete prejudice and violence will it change our state of thought or are those things printed on some of our DNA strands?

I’m just a guy who likes movies so don’t look at me for the answers!

All in all it’s a fascinating look at archaic laws, how some politicians who believe themselves to be better educated than you DECIDE what is good for you, and just how quickly power can corrupt anyone.

The image and sound on this disc aren’t great, but it’s just talking heads so the need for hi-def, 1080hp with super duper surround sound probably isn’t needed.

Score: ****

Video: **

Audio: **

Extras: Oh did you want extras? Well, buckle up, sunshine!

Disc 1 has a series of slideshows: the first is a selection of fanzines who traded in illegal video tapes, then we have DPP72 and DPP82 which show the covers of films banned/ almost banned.

This disc also has trailers for The Playgirls and the Vampire, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 2, Night of the Bloody Apes, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Dead of Night, Cannibal Girls, Teaserama, Varitease, Ghost Story, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Fausto 5.0, Gwendoline, Between Your Legs, Cruel Passion, Escort Girls, Some Like It Sexy, Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, The Good Little Girls, Justine’s Hit Nights, Scandalous Photos, Dressage and Education Anglaise. (Though both Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again attach to the same trailer, which is a bummer)

There is also a couple of Easter eggs that feature images of programs and passes from various film festivals, and a short film “It’s Just A Movie’.

Disc 2 and 3 have, in total, about 10 hours of trailers (which for length-of-review reasons I won’t list them all) of the Section 3 video nasties, with introductions.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s fascinating and a great supplement to the first documentary, but meanders a little. That hasn’t stopped me from giving it several watches.

Prison School Volume 1

Surely to truly experience manga to its fullest, one must read it all. Action, superheroes, romance, sports…

… and whatever the hell genre this one falls into!

Image to admit I had already watched the first season of the anime of this manga and thoroughly enjoyed every perverted minute of it, but it stops at a satisfactory ending, but with no further seasons seeming to be coming in the near future, I’ve decided to proceed with the manga, but rather than start at the start of the end of the story the anime told (which is very manga accurate). I’ve decided to start from the beginning to get the benefits of the full-tilt ecchi experience that Prison School has to offer.

Prison School was produced by mangaka Akira Hiramoto, who won with Prison School in the General Manga Category at the 2013 Kodansha Awards, the Japanese Manga awards, where it shares the title with previous year winners like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Hitoshi Awaaki’s Parasyte. Hiramoto is also responsible for other mangas Me and the Devil Blues and RaW Hero.

Prison School tells of the first 5 male students to be accepted to the all-girl boarding school Hachimitsu Private Academy; Shingo, Joe, Dre, Gackt and our hero, Kiyoshi. As one would expect, these hot blooded young men decide to try and see the girls in the shower block, and, as one would expect, their mission to do so goes horrible wrong, and they find themselves with a choice, be expelled, or face a month in the school’s prison.

The schools prison system is run by the Shadow Student Council, led by the president Mari, a man-hating disciplinarian, her second in charge, Shiraki, a busty psycho with a riding crop, a problem with excessive sweat and an uncomfortably (for the boys) shirt skirt, and finally Hana, a karate expert who ends up with a strange predilection for golden showers.

Unfortunately for Kiyoshi, he has fallen for the darling of the school, Chiyo, a sumo enthusiast whom he has agreed to go on a date with, and he won’t let being trapped in prison stop him from getting there. He and Gackt come up with a plan to get him to his date, but will the Shadow Student Council stop him?

Unfortunately, this being volume 1, we don’t find that ultimate result out, so whilst the volume does end on a decent cliffhanger, it doesn’t end satisfactorily, which is a bit of a bummer. The story is extraordinarily sexist and rude, but fans of this type of comic would expect no less, and in actual fact would insist on it. This is American teenage movies like American Pie or Porky’s in comic book form, so I guess one does have to ask that the reader be acceptable of the type of humour it represents.

Hiramoto’s art is dynamic, but occasionally uneven and even a little bizarre in its choices to show nipples in one drawing, and not in the next… is there a nipple limit in manga?

All in all I look forward to further tankoubon in this series, but this first volume, which granted does require a lot of set up, fails to end on a satisfactory note.

Score: **

Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Film: I may be a little old and set in my ways, but I am willing to listen to alternate opinions and think about stuff that I may not agree with, and can sometimes even be swayed. There is a caveat though: one thing I have to assure you about is I will never EVER be convinced that the 80s WASN’T The best time for horror!

Because it was.

100%.

Truly the 80s were one of the generations of horror when legends were built, not just in film, but also in literature. Clive Barker is certainly one of those legends. Not just with his selection of six volumes of horror short stories The Books of Blood, but also with his debut directorial effort (also based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, first published in volume 3 of the Dark Visions anthology series of books) Hellraiser, described by the reviewer for Melody Maker magazine as the greatest British horror film ever made.

Hellraiser tells of Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) who are moving into his abandoned parents house after his mother’s passing. They find that his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) a ne’er-do-well who is also Julia’s adulterous partner, unbeknownst to Larry, has been staying there but now appears to be missing… and seemingly in a hurry…

What they don’t realise is that Frank was the recipient of a mystical puzzle box called The Lament Configuration, which opens a door to Hell and drags you in. When Larry cuts his hand whilst moving in, his blood dripping onto the floor allows Frank (now a skinless monster, played by Oliver Smith) a door to escape from Hell, but he requires more blood to regain his full human appearance, and Clare is more than happy to spend her days luring men back to the house for him to consume from his hideout in the house’s attic.

He does eventually reveal himself to Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) who escapes his clutches and steals the puzzle box, accidentally activating it and releasing Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and fellow Cenobites, creatures who collect the souls of people, offering them an opportunity to feel the ultimate ecstasy. Instead of taking her though, Kirsty offers them Frank, whom they don’t believe managed to escape Hell… so it’s up to Kirsty to prove to them who he is.

I still remember seeing the trailer for this at a Village cinema in Sydney, and even that creeping me out, so when it finally arrived I couldn’t wait to see it, and I was thrilled by what I saw. For me, horror before this has been either monsters or slashers, and this film certainly opened my eyes to a different form of horror, and how in the right hands, a low-budget film could be just as, if not more thrilling than the biggest of blockbusters.

This film has quality thrills, great acting and a solid storyline that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Of all the big guns of 80s horror, Hellraiser is certainly one of the biggest, and shouldn’t be missed. The sequels, of course, get lesser as they go on and honestly, if you must watch any of the 9-odd films, you should watch the first three, and then stop.

Score: *****

Format: The quality of the feature seems to be only slightly above that of a DVD release, but it’s 1.77:1 image and Dolby HD-DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound do the job.

Score: ***1/2

Extras: Whilst Umbrella used to be the legends of extras, they seem to care less about it now.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s a classic and deserves to be rewatched regularly. Mind you it also deserves a more complete package of extras so THIS release might not be the one to get!

Fairy Tail Volume 1

An ex-co-worker of mine was a big fan of Fairy Tail to the point she named her cosplay name after one of the characters in this anime (Hi Tash!) but honestly, even thoigh she pestered me to read it, I never got around to it… until now! I have to say it wasn’t what I expected!

Fairy Tail is a manga produced by mangaka Hiro Mashima, who also gave us Rave Master, and he says that the idea of Fairy Tail came from the sense of community he felt from being with his friends, and the quest that some young people have in real life to find their calling.

Fairy Tail Volume One takes us to the fantasy land of Earth-land and in this volume, we meet Lucy Heartfilla, 17 year old celestial wizard who wants to join a guild called Fairy Tail for the sense of community (like I said above… the main part of the guild is even a pub, which, it is said, Mashima got part of his inspiration).

While searching in a town, she accidentally finds herself embroiled in a human-trafficking ring (specifically one that kidnaps young women), until she is saved by Natsu Dragneel, a dragon slayer wizard who has fire based powers, and his associate Happy, a cat with some shape shifting abilities.

After they save her, she is invited to join Fairy Tail as it just so happens that they are members! They introduce her around the group, but discover one of their kin, Macao, has been kidnapped (a LOT of kidnapping seems to happen) by apes called ‘Vulcans’, and so immediately start what will no doubt be a series of adventures which will take them all over Earth-land.

Now even though I’ve watched anime since I was a kid, back in the days when we just called them ‘cartoons’, I’m only a recent full-tilt convert to anime, and it’s come from a sense of boredom with western comics. Prior to my current addiction I really only ever purchased Akira and a couple of western-styled manga like Dirty Pair. (I do have an occasional Lum, Ranma 1/2 and some only Shonen Jumps in my collection).

To this relative newcomer to manga, I find Mashima’s art and style to be reminiscent of One Piece, even down to the pseudo-fantasy/ historical setting. I imagine this is what Harry Potter would have been like if created by Eiichiro Oda!

The story runs along at a cracking pace, and the art style matches the frenetic tale it tells. I do have to admit I’m not a great fan of art going from a particular style and then changing to express an emotion like shock, but the story was good enough that I could overlook that.

The characters are great, though! Lucy is our access to the guild so we learn about their habits and laws through her eyes. I hav to say I also enjoy her magical powers as they are really inventive and not something I can recall seeing ever before!

Natsu is also an interesting, passionate character who like his powers suggest, is a bit of a hothead, and Happy is just (so far, it’s only volume 1) as his name suggests, a happy cat who can talk and grow wings!

This volume also has some descriptions of jokes that may not have translated from the Japanese too well, and describes a few translation changes to make sense to western readers.

I can see myself buying another volume of this as I enjoyed it, but I think the next volume will need to have more of a hook as I can’t really see the characters getting too much development, but I hope I am wrong.

Score:***1/2

Planet of the Vampires aka Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

Planet of the Vampires aka Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

20 years ago this came out!!

Film: There is no doubt that director Mario Bava is truly the Godfather of Italian cinema. Able to dance between genres like a ballet dancer at breakdance school, he did everything from horror to westerns, from historical to sci-fi proving himself to be a master of cinema.

American International Pictures hit a few home runs with the Bava films Black Sunday and Black Sabbath (as well as some other non-Bava Italian films) and were looking to invest more heavily in the production of films so they could have the rights in the USA. Planet of the Vampires was one such collaboration and is based on the short story, One Night of 21 Hours by Renata Pestriniero, originally published in Interstellar Science Fiction Magazine. The screenplay was adapted by Bava, along with Ib Melchior, Alberto Bevilacqua, Castillo Consulich, Antonio Román, Rafael J. Salvia and Louis M. Hayward.

Angry astronauts attack!

So, do many hands make light work, or did too many cooks spoil the broth?

Planet of the Vampires sees the deep space vessels Argos and Galliot answer a distress call on the planet Aura. As the ships descend into the atmosphere, a high gravity pressure forces the crews into unconsciousness, only finding themselves acting temporarily violently upon awakening.

When the ships land, the only person unaffected by the temporarily is the captain of the Argos, Captain Markary, who, after his crew come to their senses, organise a team to search the strange alien landscape for the Galliot.

The finest in astronautical fashion and equipment!

When they find the Galliot, they discover the entire crew has killed each other and so all are buried, only to come back to life and attack the surviving crew. What is causing the crew to return to life though, and what happened to the gigantic alien race whose crashed spaceship seems to have suffered the same fate…?

Essentially, this is more or less a stock standard sci-fi film of the 50s but with a little bit of blood and gore… I mean, a LITTLE bit… but it’s notoriety comes from the influence it had on films like Alien and Prometheus, and if I may throw a little suggestion in their as well, Event Horizon and Lifeforce, but not to the same extent.

Bava’ s use of studios for the planet’s exteriors make for a bizarre looking alien world that does use his amazing skill of depth of field using lights and forced perspective, and should be included in any film schools education repertoire.

The costuming is a highlight though because it’s out of this world (wink wink)!! The best way to describe the main suits of the astronauts would be… um… ok, imagine if Hugo Boss has designed the SS uniform based on Kiss-Ass’s superhero suit/ wetsuit, but with 70s shirt collars flipped up like a polo on a frat boy. Yep. Nailed it.

Ultimately it’s 50s sci-fi made in the 60s. It’s quaint and it’s fine but I wish I’d watched Alien again instead! Or Lifeforce.

Or Event Horizon.

Hell, even Prometheus!

Score: **1/2

Planet of the Vampires Menu Screen.

Format: I had a weird revelation whilst watching this DVD in that it’s 20 years old.

Yep. This release from MGM’s Midnite Movies brand is 20 years old at the time of this review, and for a DVD that old, it’s 1.85:1 image and mono audio wasn’t too bad. It’s not brilliant, but it was watchable and the audio was clear.

Score: ***

Extras: A trailer, and that’s it.

Score: *

WISIA: Like I said, I wish I’d watched Alien again.

SHOCK! HORROR!