In 2017, the BFI published an article about the "17 rare times when a director made five or more great films in a row". This being the BFI, their choices were mostly on the Criterion-approved, arty end: Anderson, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, and so on. For me, one name sprang immediately to mind, one much less adored in cineaste circles: Walter Hill.
Now more or less retired, Hill has had a fascinating and varied career which began in the late 1960s. As an uncredited second assistant director on Bullitt (1968), he was responsible for keeping bystanders from walking out into the street while the car chases were being shot in San Francisco. Later, he decided to focus on screenwriting, explicitly as a route to directing. By 1975 he was in the director's chair, having written a number of scripts including for Sam Peckinpah's mid-career hit The Getaway (1972).
There's a ton of memorable scenes in Brian de Palma's Scarface (1983), but one of the best sees Miami drug lord Tony Montana (Al Pacino) making his drunken, drugged exit from a fancy restaurant. "Say goodnight to the bad guy", he slurs at the shocked diners, "it's the last time you gonna see a bad guy like me, let me tell you." De Palma's lurid film of '80s excess is smarter than it is often given credit for, and this scene is one reason. It's about how we're simultaneously fascinated and repelled by "bad guys", both in real life and in the movies.
David Ayer is another director who is as fascinated by bad guys as De Palma - he has a special interest in bad guys that ostensibly should be good. Corrupt cops have featured in several of the films he has written and directed, including Training Day (2001), Dark Blue (2003) and Street Kings (2008). Of these films, Training Day is the most reputable - it earned star Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar, and made Ayer's name. At the other end of the spectrum, there's Sabotage (2014).
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of their SF Masterworks series, in early 2019 Gollancz launched a counterpart dedicated to older classics of science fiction: the Golden Age Masterworks. Of the initial tranche of books, Galactic Patrol by E.E. "Doc" Smith is one of the earliest. A very early example of space opera, the novel was originally serialised in six parts in the pages of Astounding magazine in 1937 and 1938.
A food engineer by trade - with a specialism in doughnut mixes, of all things - E.E. Smith was a fairly prolific author of science fiction. Galactic Patrol forms a part of his Lensman series, which had quite a complicated publishing history, not least because he later retrofitted an existing novel to serve as a prequel to this one.
Prolific author Alastair Reynolds is a major presence in the British science fiction scene, best known for his expansive Revelation Space universe which he has published since 2000. For its part, Slow Bullets is a standalone novella which exists outside Reynolds' various fictional universes - instead focusing on the unfortunate passengers of the "skipship" Caprice.
Formerly a luxury liner, the vessel has been retrofitted as a prison transport in the aftermath of an interstellar conflict between factions of humanity. Outside of a limited number of civilians, the Caprice mainly carries the "dregs" of the now-ended war: military criminals of all kinds, drawn from both the Central and Peripheral sides.
Belatedly continuing on from my looks at season 1 and season 2 of The Next Generation, here I'll be giving some brief thoughts on season 3. It's often thought that this is the season when TNG really began to fire on all cylinders, but for me the first half of it is dominated by very average episodes. Things do step up a gear in the second half, and builds towards the widely acclaimed two-part story "The Best of Both Worlds", which I'll deal with in its entirety here, even though its second part is actually the first episode of season 4.
Season 3's episodes are set in 2366, the third year of the Enterprise-D's mission. Notably, Beverley Crusher returns as ship's medical lead after her unfortunate absence in season 2. Several characters introduced here will recur in later seasons, including rogueish archaeologist Vash, Romulan commander Tomalak, and the villanous Klingon warlord Duras.
While TNG never really does full-blown story arcs as we know them, there are some recurring threads which begin in season 3. One is the Federation's very uneasy relationship with the warlike Romulans, who appear in three episodes. Another is the machinations of Duras, an enemy of Worf who has designs on seizing power within the Klingon Empire. These threads will join together in season 4. In any case, there are 26 episodes to look at, and little time to waste - engage!
The unexpected and and immense success of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines meant that the development of a follow-up was an obviously good move. While a sequel would eventually materialise in 2001, the first step for Pyro Studios and publisher Eidos was to design a standalone expansion: 1999's Beyond the Call of Duty.
Introducing eight new missions, superior graphics, more interactive environments, and new skills which slightly balance out the responsibilities of the characters, Beyond the Call of Duty is an excellent expansion set that should be seen as integral to the main game.
Newcomers to the games industry, Spanish developer Pyro Studios expected to sell about 15,000 copies of their first game. Within six months of its release in June 1998, it had shifted a massive 900,000 copies and topped the charts in the UK and Germany for over a dozen weeks. For a stealth game, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines had made a big noise.
A confirmed surprise smash hit, Commandos instantly established Pyro as a studio to watch. Their polished execution of a novel and distinctive gameplay style made Commandos a template for a small but enduring wave of similar games; German studio Mimimi breathed new life into the subgenre as recently as 2016 with their excellent revival Shadow Tactics.
Soon, Liandri discovered that the public matches were their most profitable enterprise. The professional league was formed - a cabal of the most violent and skilled warriors in known space, selected to fight in a grand tournament...
The original 1999 Unreal Tournament has been a favourite game of mine since I picked up a copy of its "Game of the Year" edition in Toys 'R' Us for £10 - that is to say, for a very long time. As a kid, I was unaware of the fierce rivalry between fans of UT and Quake III as to which game deserved the deathmatch crown; I'm not sure I've ever played UT online.
For me, it was the single-player that mattered - ironic, given the intense multiplayer focus of the game's design. As with Quake III, the solo portion of UT is not prioritised. A thin plot is used to link together a series of arena battles against AI bots, as one bout of grisly bloodsport follows another.
Suprisingly, the worldbuilding and background detail in UT, a game essentially without a story, is for me one of its best and most fascinating aspects. With only Unreal to build upon, the game summons up an engaging, half-glimpsed world using only one cutscene, flavour text, and the design of its maps. That this world is never explored properly only serves to make it more tantalising. How can this work?
Beginning in earnest in the 1960s, a British colony with a land area of less than 450 square miles spawned a commercial film industry of stunning vitality. At its peak, Hong Kong was the world's third biggest film producer, exceeded only by the United States and India. Its well-developed galaxy of movie stars made films of every genre which commanded huge audiences at home, across East Asia, and eventually the West. While film production has slowed dramatically since the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong cinema is still an international cult phenomenon, its influence felt all over the world. This legacy rests on one thing above all - action movies.
Despite the transformation of stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh into household names, and the contributions of directors like John Woo to American film, relatively few people in the West are watching Hong Kong action movies today. This is due in part to their fairly poor availability on home video and streaming services, a situation which is only slowly changing for the better. Quite often, seeing even the most iconic films is a matter of sourcing out-of-print DVDs, or even importing region-free discs directly from Hong Kong.
What follows is my brief, personal introduction to the remarkable world of Hong Kong action cinema. With many hundreds of films made in the genre across the decades, a comprehensive guide is all but impossible - but the key films and further readings listed here should provide a point of entry into the most unique and thrilling action movies there are. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.
Following on from my run through the first season, it's time to continue with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 2 was broadcast in 1988 and 1989, with the episodes being set in 2365 during the second year of the USS Enterprise-D's mission.
While season 3 is generally thought of as the point at which TNG really came together as a series, season 2 shows some definite - if extremely patchy - signs of improvement over the first set of episodes. The two most impressive episodes are "The Measure of a Man" and "Q Who", which are often seen as some of the very best from TNG's early years. Notably, the latter introduces the Borg for the very first time - the implacable beings set up as a formidable threat both within TNG and even moreso, in Voyager.
Some significant changes this season include the introduction of Guinan (played wonderfully by Whoopi Goldberg), the promotion of Worf and LaForge to security chief and chief engineer respectively, and the temporary replacement of Beverly Crusher as chief medical officer. Dr Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur, isn't often popular with fans not least due to her (initial) antipathy towards Data. Plus, who can forget the introduction of Riker's beard? Engage!