Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Review: Space Adventure Cobra (1982 Film)

Cobra, the universe’s most wanted outlaw, runs his motorcycle into a cat-suited bounty hunter. She, naturally, has her aim set on him, but not for his bounty. A gold-skinned crime-lord kidnapped her sister. With Cobra’s help she will save her sister from Crystal Boy’s megalomaniacal clutches.

Not a deep plot. And, despite many obstacles poofing into existence from A to B, not a complex one neither. The plot is an excuse. It seems an illustrator, still reeling from a prolific creative burst, sat before a wall plastered with drawings of characters, settings, moments and explosions, and only then wondered, ‘How can I string these together.’ In this, SAC resembles something from French Sci-Fi comics. The artist wishes to flex his visual muscles, and then concocts a narrative as vehicle. So while the narrative is little more than a well-done 80s, tongue-in-cheek, action-fest, I would be in error to judge purely on that. From the Bond-style opening credits to a space cruiser’s screen-filling flight, the film, with no apology, puts style over substance. 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Review: Kahil Gibran's The Prophet (Film)

Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), a mischievous thief, mute since the death of her father, follows her mother (Salma Hayek) to work one day. Her mother acts as housekeeper to the poet and eponymous prophet Mustapha (Liam Neeson), who after seven years house arrest has his sentence commuted to exile. As Almitra, her mother and Mustafa make their way to the docks, with guards ensuring their journey, Mustafa passes on aphorisms to those he meets on the way.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Review: An African Millionaire, by Grant Allen

Sir Charles Vandrift, ruthless South African diamond mogul, meets his match in Colonel Clay. Masquerading as a Mexican Seer, Clay, with little more than a few parlour conjurings, makes away with five thousand pounds of Vandrift’s fortune. And Clay’s not finished, he’ll swindle Vandrift to his last pound. After all, how can Vandrift fight a master of disguise, a hawk who can be anyone and anywhere?  

The series in a line: Gentleman swindler cons a millionaire over and over again. Sounds repetitive, doesn’t it, twelve stories performing the same dance. But Allen avoids stagnation by differentiating the stories just enough. Of course the stories have a formula, but they never descend to the formulaic. In each story Allen introduces one or two new characters – It doesn’t take a mystery aficionado to spot the criminal. But the unmask never hogs the climax. Allen doesn’t tease and hint at where, oh where, is that damned Colonel Clay. He focusses on the con, rather, on how that magnificent bastard Clay will swindle that petty bastard Vandrift.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review: Olivia by Olivia, by Dorothy Strachey

‘[H]ave you ever been in love?’ …
‘Yes,’ she answered somberly, ‘yes.’
‘And what’s it like?’
‘Too horrible to speak of … And too delicious.’
(pg. 65)

Olivia, sixteen, and ready to have the half-sleep of childhood burned from her. Her bildungsroman, inspired by Strachey’s own life, blooms in Mlle Julie and Mlle Cara’s school. But her education extends beyond academia, as she cannot help, nor tries to help, that she loves her schoolmistress, Mlle Julie. A love perhaps returned.   

Monday, 4 May 2015

Review: Cochlea & Eustachia, by Hans Rickheit

By convention a review starts with a description of the plot’s setup. I hope you will forgive me if this sounds like the perverted dreams of a feverish addict. Cochlea and Eustachia, two identical girls of uncertain species, wearing only negligees and domino masks, explore the home (?) of a disturbed scientist (?) whose head is a sooty cotton bud. The girls explore the condemned manor, where bloodless viscera vines the walls. They witness another identical girl steal a book from a hairless borrower living in an owl statue. I won’t go on – not for fear of spoiling the story, just that I doubt I could describe it.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Review: Gunsmith Cats: Revised Edition Omnibus 1, by Kenichi Sonoda

Irene ‘Rally’ Vincent sells guns. Minnie May loves explosions. They fight crime. In Chicago. With lots of guns and explosions.

The reverence Sonoda shows towards firearms seems native to a country with strict gun laws1. He loves guns like a steam engine enthusiast loves trains. A hobbyist’s fascination drives him to understand these exotic objects. While American gun nuts possess as much knowledge, the Western worship of guns depends on its violent ends. They care how a gun works only so far as it tells them how big a load it could blow through someone’s head. And while Sonoda does blow a few holes through heads, he also treats guns as artisan objects, refreshing one wearied by the Freudian, frat boy gun love of Western popular culture.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Review: Fantômas, by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre

[This review contains slight spoilers, both explicitly and by implication.]

"‘You are mad, boy, absolutely mad! Vidocq – Rocambole! You mix up legend and history, lump together murderers with detectives, and make no distinction between right and wrong! You would not hesitate to put the heroes of crime and the heroes of law and order on one and the same pedestal!’

‘You have said the word, sir,’ Charles Rambert exclaimed; ‘they are all heroes. But, better still Fantômas–’"

Fantômas, 1911

A flame-lit discussion on that force of criminality, Fantômas, foreshadows the lady of the house’s slaughter. A missing English lord appears dead in a trunk. A foreign Princess, too scared to screamed, bathes as a burglar cuts her alarm. Only Juve, an Inspector of supreme deductive creativity, can grasp at the tenuous, yet iron, thread between the crimes. But is even his genius enough?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Review (Adaptation Comparison): The Paradise (adapted from Au Bonheur des Dames, by Emile Zola)

Emile Zola’s cautiously optimistic social commentary on the mass culture leviathan of the industrial age, the luxurious department store, Au Bonheur Des Dames, is the basis of the historical drama, The Paradise. Guess which part of that description the BBC executives focussed on. 

By the time they released the series collection it seems they (or at least the marketers) realised they’d not created an adaptation of Zola’s novel, but an economically lavish costume drama. Although the title cards of each episode claim the show is based on ‘a novel by Emile Zola,’ scouring the series' DVD packaging I can find no reference to Zola, his novel, or that this is an adaptation at all. Probably for the best. The reason, in the modern entertainment landscape, to superficially adapt a property is to have inbuilt name recognition. Call me condescending, but I don’t believe many Britishers or Americans have knowledge of 19th century French literature, much less a knowledge of Emile Zola. ‘Adapted from a novel by Emile Zola’ sells far less than does ‘19th century costume drama.’

Friday, 13 February 2015

Review: If the Moon Smiled, by Chandani Lokuge

If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.
You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.

-        Sylvia Plath, The Rival

Born in Sri Lanka, and though now in Australia, Manthri’s never quite left it. Her watercolour childhood crumbles away under her culture’s idea of womanhood. In Australia, with her family, her patriarchal husband, and thoroughly Western children, her life peels away. She finds herself trapped in land that does not support her culture, and trapped in a culture that does not care for her happiness. If she loves her husband, that love sleeps below layers of bondage and despair. She loves her children, but she knows, ‘With my love of [them] I built a husk around me. And lay secure in its warmth. But they skin the husk as it dries, layer by layer.’ 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Review: Au Bonheur des Dames, by Emile Zola

To paint a matter from every vantage and sympathy, to avoid sermonising, that is the trait of a great novelist, rare and to-be-cherished. Towards matters like generational divides and consumerism such impartiality is sparser still, but Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Delight/Paradise) reaches as close to this as possible. He descends to neither the level of moss-eyed reactionary, nor that of the skater gripping the rear bar of Progress’ train. Through exhaustive research and nearly two decades hindsight, Zola explores the bud and bloom of the department store, viewing it personally and societally, from the perspective of the new age’s victors to its losers, from its young to its old.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Review: Strangers in Paradise Omnibus Edition, by Terry Moore

To note: this is a review of the omnibus edition of SiP. Reading the series over a decade, or even all at once, in issue form, would produce a marginally different review to this one. This review comes from reading two 1000+ page tomes. Also, while I will not spoil the events of the ending, I will describe the comic-language and story-telling techniques of the ending. 

On the shelf, a woman’s blackened eye stares at me through a tear in darkness. The eye, reddened and swollen, does not cry, not even quivering to predict tears. Firm eyes, strong spirit, looking out beneath the words, ‘Strangers in Paradise: Omnibus,’ and above the signature, ‘Terry Moore’. Not merely box art, but an image from within the story imposed without, overflowing into reality, as if to say, ‘This is no slice-of-life contained between two covers for easy intake. This is life.’  

‘Epic-length relationship drama’ will likely turn off a large portion (of a certain half) of SiP’s potential readers. A two thousand page exploration of the lives of two women, Francine and Katchoo, whose relationships filial, romantic and platonic bloom, whither and still-birth before us. A good deal of men, I shall generalise, might condemn it, unread, as ‘chick-lit’ (here used pejoratively). I won’t say it is more than that, out of respect to chick-lit*, but I will say it is more than they think of that.     
Written over fourteen years, from 1993 to 2007, totalling 106 issues Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise is comprised of three ‘volumes’, and since its initial publication has been acclaimed as one of comics’ masterworks. The first volume, only three issues long, feels like Moore winding his characters up to see how they run, testing the dramatic potential of their relationships to decide whether a grander undertaking could be set upon.