Friday, 19 January 2018

'Star Trek: New Visions Volume 6' Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

Star Trek: New Visions is a strange comic book series. There’s no art inside the pages of this book. Instead, the story is told in a photo montage style, using images from the original Star Trek television show, as well as new computer generated elements, to tell original stories.

The sixth volume collects together three issues of the series: issue #15 ‘The Traveller’, issue #16 ‘Time Out of Joint’, and issue #17 ‘All the Ages Frozen’. Whilst most comic series tell a story across several issues, bringing them together in one story in the graphic novels, Star Trek: New Visions tells a complete and self contained story in each of their issues, meaning that we get treated to three different and distinct Star Trek adventures in one book.

In the first story the crew of the Enterprise come across a mysterious ship, home to a humanoid entity called The Traveller, who is at war with a mysterious race. The second story has the Enterprise come under attack by strange aliens with a power over time, shifting Kirk through his own timeline. And the third story sees the crew going in search of missing Federation scientists, but discovering a long lost civilisation instead.

The stories are well told, and despite only being a single issue long, have a well put together pace, never feeling too short, but not overstaying their welcome. This quicker, snappy pace feels very much in line with the classic Star Trek series; a show that very rarely told stories over more than one episode, and often had plots move quickly.

The writing captures this feel incredibly well, with a great deal of the dialogue fitting in with the original show. The writing never feels too high concept, and a lot of the story is told in simple ways, and whilst this may put some people off, it does make it fall more in line with the show that it’s emulating.

The biggest issue for myself, however, is the artwork in the book. Photo comics are always a stand out, because they’re very rarely done in the industry. Whilst in many cases this comes down to people not always being able to create the kinds of images they want, Star Trek: New Visions is able to draw from the original series in order to tell its stories.

This means that this is the comic that looks more like Star Trek than any other book you’ll read, because it’s made from Star Trek. However, the panels are made up from several different elements, and can often feel slightly off. Dimensions and sizes are sometimes wrong, colours don’t always match, and characters can appear like they’re not quite real.

This sense of something not quite right is often compounded when images from the original series are combined with completely new CGI images, where it’s very obvious that we’re not looking at images of the show, but photoshopped pictures. Perhaps it’s just me, but this makes the book hard to read in places? This may not be an issue for everyone, but it’s possible that it may drag you out of the book and spoil your experience.

Overall, Star Trek: New Visions is a well made and competently made book, with some interesting and engaging stories within its pages, but an interesting and unique art style may put some people off.

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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Looking Back At The Maze Runner

Originally published on Set The Tape

Perhaps it says a lot about the current political and social climate of the world when all you need to do is look at teen movies to see how things have shifted in the last dozen years. Whilst at one time you’d have stories about navigating the dramas of high school, like Mean Girls, or stories about teens desperate to lose their virginity, such as American Pie or Kevin and Perry Go Large, today it’s about horrific futures and desperate fights for survival.

Whilst this arguably provides much more interesting stories, it can lead to a market place filled with a lot of very similar films; The Hunger Games, The Divergent Series, and The Maze Runner were all released in quick succession of one another. Because of the huge popularity of The Hunger Games and the push of this kind of fiction, I ended up missing The Maze Runner when it was first released, and didn’t actually get around to watching it until the second film was out, doing the two of them back-to-back.

Where The Hunger Games and Divergent presented worlds that were ruled by totalitarian governments, with people forced into lives that they didn’t want or were just downright exploitative, The Maze Runner actually managed to subvert expectations by focusing small.

Over the course of the rest of The Maze Runner series we find out more about the world, the evil government/company behind everything, and the apocalypse that befell the Earth, the first film doesn’t really give us any of this. Instead, it focuses on a small cast of characters who begin knowing as much as the audience does, dumped into the centre of a gigantic shifting maze without memory of who they are.

It’s a bold choice. It doesn’t provide any answers about what is really happening until the final few minutes of the film (and we find out later that most of these revelations shouldn’t be trusted), but it really works.

This is a film set in a post apocalypse future, but that doesn’t matter here. The Maze Runner is a mystery before anything else. Who are these people? Why are they in the maze? Who built the maze How do they escape? What are the mysterious creatures that dwell within? These are the important questions.

Thankfully, the film is good at letting these mysteries play out slowly, letting you get used to one part of the world before introducing more intrigue, or providing answers, such as the slow introduction to the Grievers, the monsters living within the walls of the maze.

The cast, though young, are able to carry the film incredibly well, managing to keep it engaging and entertaining even when nothing is happening. Dylan O’Brien is good in the role of Thomas and is believable in his arc, going from scared and confused outsider to a brave and competent leader. It doesn’t feel forced or unbelievable like this kind of role can do, and he doesn’t have the arrogance or unlikable qualities that surround characters like Katniss from The Hunger Games.

The best characters, however, are probably Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt and Ki Hong Lee’s Minho. Two characters that begin the film in positions of power over Thomas, become mentors to him, friends and equals, and eventually look to him as their leader. Their arcs in this first film are complex ones, as their relationships with Thomas change drastically, yet they manage to feel very natural and believable. Most importantly, though, is that both of these characters are incredibly likable throughout, so it comes as no surprise that they go on to survive the Maze and will become important characters in the rest of the series.

The weakest link is Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, the only female member of the young cast. Unlike the male cast members she never quite feels comfortable in her role. Perhaps this is an intentional choice on the part of the filmmakers for developments that will happen to her character in the sequel, but here it feels slightly out-of-place.

Overall, The Maze Runner is very enjoyable and that manages to stand out against the other teen apocalypse movies from the same time. Overlooked because it lacked the star cast of The Hunger Games, it delivers a much more engaging and entertaining film than its more well-known counterpart. If you missed this upon first release, you definitely need to do yourself a favour and go back catch up before the release of Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

Go to Amy's Blog

'Star Wars Adventures: Forces of Destiny: Leia' Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny has already garnered a good reputation for taking a look at the female characters from the Star Wars universe and giving them a chance to shine in the relatively short time that it’s been around. Kicking off the five issues of the comic being released this month is the original female hero of the Star Wars saga, Princess Leia.

Set on the frozen world of Hoth shortly before the events of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, this issue follows Princess Leia as she and a handful of other Star Wars heroes search the icy wastes of Hoth looking for a crashed Rebel ship that will help them to repair their damaged power generator.

Princess Leia is put into a position where she is representing the will to carry on, feeling as tired and run down as the rest of the Rebels around her, but putting on a brave face, giving inspirational speeches, and pushing her people to carry on. All while also having to deal with an incredibly unruly Tauntaun.

The book manages to mix together the sense of desperation that the Rebels are feeling with a nice amount of humour as Princess Leia is constantly battling against an animal that would rather dig around in the snow and throw her off its back than do what it’s told. This helps the book from ever feeling too overly serious or grim, but the balance with the real emotions that the characters would be feeling helps to prevent the book from falling into the realms of too comedic or childish.

The story also manages to capture the banter between Han Solo and Princess Leia quite well, with a snarky back and forth between the two of them that we know is close to building to the beginning of their love story. Not only does this help the book feel more in line with the period it’s set in, but also gives Han something to do because, as with all Star Wars: Forces of Destiny stories, the men aren’t the heroes here.

Princess Leia is the focus, she’s the emotional heart, she’s the one who finds herself in jeopardy, and she’s the one who gets herself out of it (well, with a little help from her Tauntaun too).

The story doesn’t mess with the established timeline of events, and fits neatly into the story of Star War: The Empire Strikes Back, with a throwaway line referencing things living in the tunnels beneath Hoth’s surface indicating that this happens between Luke Skywalker getting attacked by a Wompa, and the Imperial assault on the planet. Instead, this adds further elements to one of the most popular Star Wars stories, giving it some more background detail.

One of the best additions it does make to the events of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is showing that Hera Syndulla from Star Wars Rebels is present on Hoth, and that she and The Ghost would have been one of the ships that ends up fleeing the planet during the battle with the AT-AT’s.

This is where Star Wars: Forces of Destiny really does good, showcasing the female characters of the universe, makes connections between the older elements of the franchise and the new characters, and gives us extra layers of detail to stories that we’re already familiar with.

It may be chance that the Star Wars: Forces of Destiny books being released over the course of January began with Princess Leia, it could be because she’s the original Star Wars heroine, but the book coming out a little over a year since the loss of Carrie Fisher makes it feel like a conscious choice on the publisher’s part to put her first. Princess Leia inspired generations of Star Wars fans, even up to her last appearance on-screen in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, proving how amazing she was right up to the end. This may not be a special tribute to her, or to Carrie, but it feels that much more special.

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'The Jackal' 20 Years On

Originally published on Set The Tape

I have to be honest, until looking into the film to write this article, I had no idea that The Jackal was a remake of the classic film The Day of the Jackal. I know of the original film, I saw that they had similar titles, but it never occurred to me that they would be connected as the plots are so different.

I know now that at the time of the making of The Jackal people were upset, particularly those with a connection to The Day of the Jackal, and that some of this permeated the press and critics of the time, leading to some mixed reviews. But even as a remake of a beloved film it’s different enough and bold enough to stand on its own.

The plot centres around a hit-man known as The Jackal (Bruce Willis), who has been hired to kill the head of the FBI. With only one person able to positively identify The Jackal, the FBI and MVD recruit the former IRA sniper Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere) to be part of the hunt for the killer.

From here the story is split between the two leads, with Gere’s terrorist turned good-guy working alongside the deputy director of the FBI Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier) and MVD agent Major Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora) to track down The Jackal, whilst we also get to see what the assassin is doing in his increasingly elaborate plot, switching from one identity and disguise to the next as he works his way down from Canada into the United States.

It’s this cat and mouse chase, jumping from one side of the plot to the other, that helps to make this an enjoyable experience, getting to not just see the good guys closing in on the villain, but actually getting to see first hand all of the things that he’s doing, rather than hearing about it later on. These story jumps also help to build tension as the hunt for the killer gets closer and closer, with the characters circling around each other more than once.

These scenes also help to show just how cold and sometimes downright evil The Jackal is, willing to kill anyone that gets in his way. Whilst not just showing us more of his character, these moments build the anticipation and tension for the few scenes where the villain actually comes face to face with the heroes, delivering some great action sequences; one of which actually claims the life of one of the three heroes.

The action sequences are well made, and the final fight does manage to stand out, with a running gunfight through the Washington DC subway system. The action sequences are something a little different from other action films. Yes, it’s slightly over the top, but manages to feel much more grounded and real than many others.

This is one of the beauties of The Jackal: it’s ridiculous and over the top, yet never reaches the level of ridiculousness that was common in action movies of the 80’s and 90’s. It is able to keep a sense of realism and reality that separates it from other action films of the time, such as Face/Off, Con Air, and Starship Troopers.

However, the acting is the main thing that pushes the film to be something a little special, which is solid and competent throughout. Whilst the film does have some big names and instantly recognisable stars in the cast, such as Willis, Gere, and Poitier, it’s easily Diane Venora who steals the film with her subtle yet memorable performance, especially in her fatal confrontation with The Jackal.

Often overlooked due to the sheer fact that it is a remake of a ‘classic’ film, The Jackal is a very strong, capable action thriller with a big name cast, some good cinematography, and competent action sequences.

Go to Amy's Blog

Monday, 15 January 2018

Eccentric Earth Episode Three Show Notes

Welcome to the latest show notes for Eccentric Earth, where I will include the research for each episode (essentially my script), along with a number of photographs and documents.

Episode Three - The Emu War

After the end of World War One many of Australia’s returning soldiers chose to become farmers, moving to Western Australia marginal areas for work, along with a number of British servicemen who chose to make a new life for themselves in Australia.

Things went well for these farmers until 1929, when the Wall Street Crash occurred. Due to the crash many countries suffered from economic depression. Australia was no exception. The country suffered from years of high unemployment levels, plunging incomes, and a lack of economic growth.

Following the crash farmers were encouraged to increase their wheat crops, with the government promising—and failing to deliver—assistance in the form of subsidies. In spite of the recommendations and the promised subsidies, wheat prices continued to fall, and by October 1932 matters were becoming intense, with the farmers preparing to harvest the season's crop while simultaneously threatening to refuse to load the wheat.

Before a resolution to this problem could be reached, things were complicated with the arrival oif 20,000 emus.

Modern day Emu migration.
Emus regularly migrate across large areas of Western Australia after their breeding season, heading to the coast from the inland regions. Due to farmers having cleared large areas of land, and having increased water supplies for their livestock, the emus found that the cultivated lands were a good habitat.

The Emus began to foray into the farmers territory—in particular the marginal farming land around Chandler and Walgoolan. The emus descended on the farmland, consuming as much of the crop as they could, and leaving what they did not eat useless to the farmers.

The Emus were not the only concern for farmers at the time. Thanks to the Emus breaking through barriers and fences the crops also fell victim to other pests, such as rabbits.

With their crops being destroyed, and the Emus continuing their advance, a number of farmers were selected to meet with Sir George Pearce, the Australian Minister of Defence.

Sir George Pearce, Australian Minister of Defence.
Due to many of the farmers being veterans of World War I, they were well aware of the effectiveness of machine guns, and they requested that the weapons be deployed to deal with the problem. The minister agreed, although with a number of conditions attached: the guns were to only be used by military personnel, and troop transport was to be financed by the Western Australian government, however, the farmers would provide food and accommodation for the soldiers, and they would have to pay for the ammunition.

The Government also supported the deployment of military personnel on the grounds that the birds would make good target practice for their soldiers, although it has also been argued that some in the government may have viewed this as a way of being seen to be helping the Western Australian farmers, and towards that end a cinematographer from Fox Movietone was enlisted to document events.

Military involvement was due to begin in October 1932. The operation was conducted under the command of Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, with Meredith commanding soldiers Sergeant S. McMurray and Gunner J. O'Hallora, armed with two Lewis automatic machine guns and 10,000 rounds of 

The operation was delayed, however, by a period of rainfall that caused the emus to scatter over a wider area. The rain ceased by 2 November 1932, at which point the troops were deployed with orders to assist the farmers and, according to a newspaper account, to collect 100 emu skins so that their feathers could be used to make hats for light horsemen.

On 2 November the men travelled to Campion, where some 50 emus were sighted. As the birds were out of range of the guns, the local settlers attempted to herd the emus into an ambush, but the birds split into small groups and ran so that they were difficult to target. Whilst the first volley from the machine guns was ineffective due to the range, a second round of gunfire was able to kill a number of the birds. Later the same day a small flock was encountered, and close to a dozen birds were killed.

The next significant event was on 4 November. Meredith had established an ambush near a local dam, and more than 1,000 emus were spotted heading towards their position. This time the gunners waited until the birds were in close proximity before opening fire. The gun jammed after only twelve birds were killed and the remainder scattered before any more could be killed. No more birds were sighted that day.

In the days that followed Meredith chose to move further south where the birds were "reported to be fairly tame", but there was only limited success in spite of his efforts. By the fourth day of the campaign, army observers noted that "each pack seems to have its own leader now - a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction and warns them of our approach."

Major Meredith with his vehicle mounted machine gun.
At one stage Meredith even went so far as to mount one of the guns on a truck: a move that proved to be ineffective, as the truck was unable to gain on the birds, and the ride was so rough that the gunner was unable to fire any shots. 

By 8 November, six days after the first engagement, 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been fired. 50 birds had been killed. Meredith's official report noted that his men had suffered no casualties.

Summarising the event, ornithologist Dominic Serventy commented:

‘The machine-gunners' dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.’

On 8 November, representatives in the Australian House of Representatives discussed the operation. Following the negative coverage of the events in the local media, that included claims that "only a few" emus had died, George Pearce withdrew the military personnel and the guns on 8 November.

After the withdrawal, Major Meredith compared the emus to Zulus and commented on the striking manoeuvrability of the emus, even while badly wounded.

‘If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world... They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.’

After the withdrawal of the military, the emu attacks on crops continued. Farmers again asked for support, citing the hot weather and drought that brought emus invading farms in the thousands. James Mitchell, the Premier of Western Australia lent his strong support to renewal of the military assistance. Additionally, a report from the Base Commander indicated that 300 emus had been killed in the initial operation, more than initially believed.

Acting on the requests and the Base Commander's report, by 12 November the Minister of Defence approved a resumption of military efforts. He defended the decision in the senate, explaining why the soldiers were necessary to combat the serious agricultural threat of the large emu population. Although the military had agreed to lend the guns to the Western Australian government on the expectation that they would provide the necessary people, Meredith was once again placed in the field due to an apparent lack of experienced machine gunners in the state.

Taking to the field on 13 November 1932, the military found a degree of success over the first two days, with approximately 40 emus killed. The third day, 15 November, proved to be far less successful, but by 2 December the guns were accounting for approximately 100 emus per week. Meredith was recalled on 10 December, and in his report he claimed 986 kills with 9,860 rounds, at a rate of exactly 10 rounds per confirmed kill. In addition, Meredith claimed 2,500 wounded birds had died as a result of the injuries that they had sustained.

Troops and equipment were finally withdrawn when the public opinion on the matter changed, with people no longer seeing this as an important cause that would help to save valuable farmland and crops, but as a costly folly. Australia had lost its war against the Emu.

Media coverage of the Emu War.

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