Tuesday, 20 December 2016

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The combination of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and yesterday’s release of the trailer to his Blade Runner 2049 got my hopes up that maybe the sequel to my favourite film isn’t going to be such a disastrous idea after all. And then I rewatched Blade Runner and am once again flummoxed as to how it can be matched.

I’m getting ever more convinced that Deckard is the villain and Batty the hero, despite Rutger’s terrifying pecs. Batty’s the persecuted minority fighting for his right to live, while Deckard the persecutor and paid killer. Much is made of the film's use of sci-fi and noir tropes, but from Batty's perspective, there's an element of horror (no, not the pecs again) - the lead group of characters being taken down one by one by a determined killer.

In fact, Batty’s not just fighting for his own rights, but those of his family. His relationships may not be conventional (he seems to be both lover and father figure to the wild and childish Pris), perhaps as a consequence of them being cast out from society, but he clearly cares for them all deeply.

Deckard, meanwhile, rapes Rachael. He clearly does, it’s played as even nastier than the usual Hollywood trope of the hero aggressively seducing the woman. On previous viewings, that scene was the one bit of the film I didn’t like, and it’s still an uncomfortable watch, but this time I thought – if it was deliberately nasty, what’s it trying to say? Is Deckard trying to assert superiority over woman or over replicant? Is he trying to prove his masculinity, or his humanity?

Like much bigotry, it all comes down to his own insecurity. The fear that maybe he’s not so dissimilar to them, that his days are numbered too. It’s a morbid film, with everyone in fear of death – “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?” – and this fear drives people to do horrible things.

It seems that with each watch, Blade Runner becomes more relevant and provocative. Sure, these interpretations may not be what anyone intended, but as much as I love it for the colourful cyberpunk aesthetics and the synthy Vangelis score, I love the way this film always makes me think.

Your move, Denis Villeneuve.

Friday, 16 December 2016

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The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is on sale now!

Our annual preview of the year ahead gives you all the gossip on the films and shows coming in 2017, and I've contributed paragraphs on many of them. You'll also find my interview with the team behind great festive horror Good Tidings, as well as my Doctor Who news column and reviews of the Star Wars Galactic Atlas and Doctor Who: Order of the Daleks.

Go buy. And then buy more copies as Christmas presents for the sci-fi fan/impossible to buy for person in your life.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

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Exciting news! My graphic novel about the life of the Buddha is now available to pre-order on Amazon.

Published by Campfire, Buddha: An Enlightened Life will be released on 11th July 2017 - not quite in time for this Christmas season, but it might make a good stocking filler next year. The art by Rajesh Nagulakonda is excellent, if my name alone doesn't sell it to you.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Fifteen years after being made redundant from Wernham Hogg, David Brent is a sales rep for a cleaning products company. In his spare time, he pursues his dreams of becoming a rock star. As he’s rejoined by the old documentary team, he takes three weeks holiday, hires a band with his pension savings, and goes off on his big tour – mainly taking in venues around Berkshire.

It’s presented in a similar style to The Office, with humour mainly coming from Brent’s delusional ambitions and everyone else’s frustration with him; there are a lot of genuine laughs, particularly for fans of the cringe-inducing style of humour you’d expect from this character. While some of the awful songs are entertaining, however, they do all repeat the same gag – with titles like ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ and ‘Native American’, Brent wants to be seen as compassionate, but causes more offence and makes everyone uncomfortable – and this does get tiring quickly.

The bigger problem with Life on the Road, though, is that it lacks the humanity of The Office, in which likeable characters including Tim and Dawn would offset Brent and prevent him becoming too grating. 

Later on, there’s an attempt to get both viewers and other characters to sympathise with Brent. But this comes rather abruptly, with the self-obsessed musician not learning anything or developing, and so the more optimistic note on which the film ends feels tacked on and undeserved. Gervais wants us to cringe at his humour, but it’s this shoddy writing that will make you want to look away.
On 29.11.16 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

The Daleks have been around for over fifty years now, and so doing something new with them while staying true to their character is a difficult task. But the cover and promotional art for Order of the Daleks, the latest in Big Finish’s monthly range, boldly flaunt its new take – a Dalek of stained glass.

Before they meet this colourfully designed villain, the Sixth Doctor and his companion Constance Clarke land on Strellin, one of those medieval planets which somehow still have similar religious orders to Earth. They're lead to a monastery, where the Brotherhood of the Black Petal are guarding a mysterious secret... yeah, alright, that secret is the Daleks.

The fact that it’s a small number of wounded Daleks allows this story to take on a smaller-scale yet more horror-inflected tone than the more epic stories of, for example, the War Doctor series. This is something that writer Mike Tucker pulls off effectively, with some genuinely scary moments. The stained-glass Daleks of the cover, their casings repaired by the monks, are either a great visual idea or a very silly one – opinions will be divided on this.

Colin Baker’s on fine form as the Doctor and it’s good to hear his relationship with the inexperienced yet practical Constance develop. John Savident is perfectly cast as the petty, arrogant Pendle, who comes at odds with the Doctor to amusing effect, particularly in the story’s early sections. Olivia Hallinan’s Asta gets the story’s strongest character arc, as she must step out from under the shadow of her overbearing superior.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

On 22.11.16 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    1 comment

With the rebellious Jyn Erso adorning the cover, it's a Star Wars-centric edition, bringing you up to speed on the galaxy far, far away in anticipation of the new prequel spin-off Rogue One.

I've contributed a few bits and bobs to this issue - there's my retrospective on the Assassin's Creed games, my Doctor Who news column, my obituary of the great Steve Dillon, and a couple of reviews (including one where I'm incorrectly credited as Andrew Marshall - the proofreader should have caught that, but he is also me Andrew).

Starburst 431 is available now from all good cantinas, spaceports and junk dealers, or via the HoloNet!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

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The recent cinematic revival of Star Wars has introduced a whole new generation of fans to its galaxy. The Galactic Atlas aims to get them in the know regarding many of the saga’s planets, moons, and battle stations.

It’s a big (approximately A3-sized) hardcover volume, full of maps depicting major galactic locations. These maps are not strictly geographically accurate, rather they aim to capture the ‘feel’ of these worlds, and so include depictions of many of the events which took place there.

The maps are in fact illustrated by Tim McDonagh, and he’s done a sterling job at it. Each planet is given a double-page spread, and is captured in colourful and absorbing detail, allowing you to lose much more time than planned poring over it. 

Planets covered include those from all seven existing films, plus some locations from the Clone Wars and Rebels television series. Excitingly, there’s also a spread dedicated to the desert moon of Jedha, a spiritual home of the Jedi, which will make its debut in the upcoming Rogue One.

This is largely aimed at younger readers or those new to the Star Wars galaxy, but the charming illustrations and high production quality will nonetheless keep the parents and hardened fans hooked, too. The perfect treat for aspiring Skywalkers!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

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Alleviate the stresses of the world's descent into totalitarianism with this kids' Doctor Who comic.

And not just because I've written the Paternoster Gang story in it. But largely because of that.

In THE HOWLING ON THE HILLS, Vastra, Jenny and Strax travel to Dartmoor to investigate a strange alien presence, and come to blows with a shady government agency.

The illustrations by Russ Leach are fabulous as ever. See, I'm not just promoting myself.

Doctor Who Adventures #20 is out now in all adequate newsagents!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Recently, Netflix UK put up all of Star Trek, and The Original Series is an important part of cultural history that I'd only ever seen bits and pieces of, so my housemate and I set out to get through the three seasons. Here are my notes (primarily episode by episode, with some skipped if the episode was too tedious for me to be arsed)...

1.1 to 1.6
I was surprised by how much these early episodes were not a sci-fi but a bawdy sex comedy. Most of them are either about a sexy woman appearing on the Enterprise and charming the crew or about a male member of the crew/new man on board being possessed and getting creepy over Janice. Either way, there’s always a shot in which a man looks at a woman’s arse in the corridor. This comes to its peak in the utterly ridiculous ‘Mudd’s Women’. Thankfully, the stories get a bit more varied and imaginative after this.

1.7 – What Are Little Girls Made Of?
The first episode that feels like Star Trek as I’d imagined it, even if it is still heavily sex-based.

1.8 – Miri
The story about the people who’ve been kids for hundreds of years is fine sci-fi fluff, but Kirk flirting with one of them (the eponymous Miri) is really creepy, the fact that the planet exactly resembles Earth is set up as a major plot point and then never mentioned again, and Shatner has his most ridiculous line ever – “NO BLAH BLAH BLAH!”

1.10 – The Corbomite Manouvre
Really enjoyed this tale of the Enterprise being held up in space by a spacefaring Windows screensaver – a proper sci-fi adventure with an intellectual focus on tactics and outthinking the opponent. Kirk’s eponymous lie is a clever way out, and has a nice message about the dangers of mutually assured destruction that must have struck chords at the time.

1.11/1.12 – The Menagerie
‘Star Trek characters watching Star Trek’ is becoming one of my favourite tropes.

1.14 – Balance of Terror
The first appearance of a well known villainous race, this time the Romulans. Like The Corbomite Manouvre, it’s a space-bound game of tactics, an imaginative look at how a border conflict might play out in a sci-fi setting, and genuinely quite tense.

1.17 – The Squire of Gothos
This one demonstrates why I hate sci-fi villains that are too powerful – they require ridiculous deus ex machinas to be defeated. When all seems lost and the god-like Tremaine is about to kill Kirk, his parents show up and tell him off for being a naughty boy. Right.

1.18 – Arena
The Kirk v Gorn fight might be notoriously clunky, but watching the two hunt each other across the planet is genuinely quite fun. That ‘characters watching Star Trek’ trope appears again and the Metrons will forever be known as ‘Space Gays’ in my mind.

1.19 – Tomorrow is Yesterday
A time travel episode is a fun idea, but we get to see hardly any of 1960s Earth and it feels like much more could have been done. Plus, the ending is another shite deus ex machina – they’ve fucked everything up irredeemably, so they fly towards the sun to reverse time and undo it. Does that not mean they can do just that to get out of any situation from now on? And the time-travel mechanics, with characters being sent back to their own time and place because the ship they were on elsewhere was going backwards in time, make even less sense than anything I’ve seen in Doctor Who at its stupidest.

1.20 – Court Martial
The first time the death of a crew member has had some consequences! But boring.

1.21 – The Return of the Archons
A world where everyone has been pacified so there is no violence, except for the one part of the year where they all go fucking mental, which is, erm, never explained or even mentioned again and seems to be there just as an excuse for a woman to kiss Kirk.

1.22 – Space Seed
Considering this is the introduction of iconic villain Khan, it is a bit of a sex episode, as there’s a lot of focus on historian McGiver wanting to bang Khan.

1.23 – A Taste of Armageddon
A nice sci-fi set-up – two planets raging war virtually, and those the maths deem dead have to submit themselves for incineration. But the plot falters, with our heroes getting captured, escaping, and getting captured again a few too many times. Would have been nice to have seen some of the other planet involved in the conflict instead.

1.24 – This Side of Paradise
Jizz flowers.

1.25 – The Devil in the Dark
Quite a good episode about the hunt for a silicone-based creature, and a nice attempt at an unusual creature design, even if you can tell there’s a man crawling around inside it. The highlight is McCoy healing the creature by shoving a trowel of concrete up some orifice on it.

1.26 – Errand of Mercy
The first Klingon episode, and it’s got a strong message about the ultimate futility of territorial wars, even if it means we have to suffer yet another up-themselves super-powered arbiter race and Kirk in very OTT warmongering mode. There’s also quite a bit of filler, including Kirk and Spock blowing up… something… for… some reason. And the Klingons look shit – men in brown face paint with Fu Manchu-style facial hair.

1.27 – The Alternative Factor
The science in this one is painful… Spock’s explanation of the anti-matter universe goes on for ages, and just gets more and more sketchy. I’m no expert on antimatter, but the bollocks is even more obvious than ever and prevented me from enjoying this. Plus, Lazarus’ ridiculous facial hair changes length and thickness from scene to scene. And why do they let him explore the Enterprise unsupervised after he’s pledged revenge on its crew?

1.28 – The City on the Edge of Forever
I had high expectations due to its top place in polls, but this really is a very good episode. With Kirk and Spock in 1930s Chicago, it plays with their friendship and with Kirk falling in love rather than getting too wound up over the science, and yet the story moves forward pacily without much filler. There’s a time travel dilemma (reminiscent of Doctor Who’s Father’s Day) that feels morally complex, avoids easy solutions, and carries emotional weight for Kirk. And in Joan Collins’ Edith Keeler, we have a strong female character who, for once, is a lot more than just a bit of arse. All of this adds up to her inevitable death being genuinely sad. Fantastic episode. Plus, Kirk explaining Spock’s appearance to a police officer is gold – “My friend is obviously Chinese” goes up there with “No blah blah blah” and “there’s no right way to hit a woman” as one of his best lines.

1.29 – Operation: Annihilate!
After Kirk had some genuine emotion in the previous episode, in this one, his brother dies and he looks a bit sad for five seconds before moving on. He also has a nephew who, for no clear reason, is never named, only referred to as “my nephew”, and who is entirely forgotten about in the last twenty minutes. They realise the evil amoebas are killed by light, so test this ‘light’ thing by shining it into Spock’s eyes and blinding him, then realise the amoebas are actually killed by UV light and that this experiment was even more pointless than it first sounded. Thankfully, they have 300 UV satellites handy, and Spock’s a Vulcan so can recover from shit like this (another recurring trope).  Still, at least the amoebas look silly when they somehow fly.

2.1 – Amok Day
Spock is horny so Kirk diverts the ship from its important mission. The way this episode largely ignores everything that’s been built up about the Vulcans being logical annoyed me – OK, so Spock had lost his sense of logic because he was in his horny season, but all the other members of Vulcan society should have built a logical system to control this, rather than sticking to some tradition including duels to the death, women becoming the property of the winner, and massive gongs.

2.2 – Who Mourns For Adonais?
Scotty’s the horny one this time! But his historian crush instead falls for the Greek god Apollo. Of course she does. It’s another pretentious superpowered space twat, which is the most tiring of Star Trek tropes. Still, the giant green hand is a funny visual. The aliens having inspired Greek myth was probably an original and intriguing idea at the time, though the seasoned Whovian in me saw it coming.

2.5 – The Apple
This episode really is a shambles, using every possible Star Trek story cliché – the ship spiralling towards a planet, the plants that attack people, the paradise that’s not really paradise, the primitive aliens controlled by a computer, the aliens not understanding human customs, etc. – and not really doing anything with any of them. It flims and flams from one tangent to the next, not knowing which to bother following all the way, and ultimately doing none of them.

2.11 – Friday’s Child
Ah, the episode where McCoy slaps a pregnant woman. He’s in a really grumpy mood throughout this one, actually. The plot’s a mess – why exactly the big fight breaks out at the end I’m still not sure, and there’s a subplot mini-cliffhanger where the Enterprise gets blocked in space by a Klingon ship which is then never mentioned again.

2.12 – The Deadly Years
So much padding… It feels like the original draft of this episode’s script came to twenty minutes, and they had to more than double it with shit. We’re shown Kirk’s getting old because he gives the same order twice, and then it happens again with a different order, and then again. And then there’s the horribly long ‘court’ case scene over whether he’s fit to stay as officer, in which each of these incidents is brought up and discussed in detail – the whole scene doesn’t develop a single bit of plot and could be easily cut. Plus the subplot about Kirk’s ex-girlfriend (yes, another one) is extraneous and feels tacked on. They don’t get around to trying to work out what saved Chekov from the aging radiation until ten minutes before the end, at which point they work it out immediately. Christ.

2.14 – Wolf in the Fold
The one where Scotty murders a prostitute. A bit of a shift in genre. And then Jack the Ripper possesses the starship and all the crew get high. Thing is, the episode seems to get bored of the court case story after a bit (well, so did I) and so they never actually prove it wasn’t Scotty, or why the knife was in Scotty’s hand. They just teleport some guy into space on little evidence then fuck off. He could still have been the murderer!

2.15 – The Trouble with Tribbles
A ridiculously silly episode with a much lighter tone than usual, and as a result one of the best episodes yet. Though it does show off just how incompetent the Enterprise crew are – their mission is to guard some grain, and they couldn’t screw it up more. That iconic scene of Kirk trapped in a pile of Tribbles is very funny, as is watching him struggle with the ludicrous problems as they pile up throughout the episode, including Scotty getting into a drunken bar fight (and so soon after he murdered that prostitute!).

2.16 – The Gamesters of Triskelion
Following a particularly funny and enjoyable episode, this tedious drivel just feels even more tedious. Elongated scenes of Kirk explaining love to an alien girl. Spock, McCoy and Scotty having the same argument four times. Lots of getting captured, escaping, and getting captured again. And another race of omnipotent pretentious space twats.

2.17 – A Piece of the Action
The crew visit a planet themed around 1920s Chicago, with various gangs vying for control. Kirk’s solution is to choose one of the gang leaders and say “You’re in charge now. By the way, we have bigger guns than you, so give us 40% of your stuff.” Everyone seems to accept this. It’s a classic example of the crew not really fixing a planet’s problems and probably fucking everything up more. Still, Spock looks cool in the gangster suit.

2.18 – The Immunity Syndrome
A spacey one, with a big energy-draining space amoeba. But it has another of Trek’s classic faults – the writer clearly had no idea how to get the crew out of all the troubles he’d thrown them into. Near the end of the episode, they arbitrarily decide ‘anti-energy’ would kill the creature, so set off an anti-matter bomb. The creature blows up – while they’re still inside it! But they’re fine. Spock was in one of the shuttlecraft at the time, and McCoy even says “I don’t know how, but the shuttlecraft survived”, with no follow-up to that. Sigh.

2.21 – Patterns of Force
The Nazi episode! Despite its very high and rather silly concept, this is coherently plotted, has some exciting action, and has some interesting discussions about the nature of power and questioning authority.

2.22 – By Any Other Name
The one where Scotty gets an alien pissed on scotch to distract it, but then passes out having drunk too much himself.

2.23 – The Omega Glory
The stupidest piece of TV I’ve ever seen. Starts out about a spaceship crew who’ve turned to salt, then forgets about that and is about two warring tribes, one of which is an Asian stereotype, then it’s revealed that the savage white tribe originally had a society coincidentally exactly the same as the USA until they were beaten by the Asians, who are communists (well, the writer clearly has no idea what ‘communist’ means except for ‘evil’). The tribe worship the American flag and constitution. Kirk monologues the constitution in full-on Shatner mode. It’s insane.

2.24 – The Ultimate Computer
An incredibly dated computer-themed episode, though it does have some similarities to how sci-fi views AI today and at least it’s a different plot that Star Trek hasn’t done yet, which is, depressingly, an achievement. It is odd when the ore freighter that the Enterprise’s new computer destroys is revealed to be unmanned… and thus controlled by a computer, whereas the whole point of this episode is that the Enterprise is becoming the first computer-controlled ship.

2.25 – Bread and Circuses
For the third time in five episodes, the crew find themselves on a planet themed around a historical Earth society. It has the same lack of explanation as The Omega Glory. It does seem that when other sci-fi franchises would use parallel universes, Star Trek uses planets that just happen to be the same as Earth but with some historical deviation – in 2.23, the East destroyed the West in the Cold War, and here, the Roman Empire never fell. There are some nice ideas – the Coliseum has become televised, the unusually revealing Spock/McCoy conversation where Spock nearly admits he’s scared of his human side peeking out – but I just can’t get past this stupid repetition. And the final scene, where the crew realise that because the slaves are developing Christianity, everything will be fine. Sigh.

2.26 – Assignment: Earth
Seemingly from a different show to Star Trek, with Kirk and co awkwardly crowbarred into the plot. Was actually a backdoor pilot for another idea Roddenberry had, and it shows. Whole sequences with no sign of the Enterprise crew!

3.1 – Spock’s Brain
Spock gets his brain stolen by a tribe of women who can’t possibly operate machines by themselves (as Kirk, Scotty and McCoy keep pointing out) so need a man’s brain to control everything for them. The male tribe nearby describe this female tribe as the “givers of pain and pleasure”. Must be the most sexist episode yet.

3.2 – The Enterprise Incident
Another Cold War-inflected Romulan episode, and actually quite good, even if it does start off weirdly, with Kirk being more of a prick than usual (it’s all part of a ruse...). Though surely breaking into a Romulan ship and stealing their cloaking device would be enough to start a war?

3.3 – The Paradise Syndrome
Another fucking alien society based on an Earth culture, this time Native Americans. But this time, there’s actual speculation as to how it happened – an ancient alien race stole them from Earth and put them here. McCoy even speculates that this race may be the cause of all the humanoid species across the galaxy. Which is interesting. Kirk falls into the stupidest, worst designed, most difficult-to-fall-in-unless-you're-a-complete-tool trapdoor in the galaxy.

3.4 – And the Children Shall Lead
I was expecting a remake of Miri, but this actually does some different things with the ideas of creepy space children, even if the villain does look like a blancmange.

3.5 – Is There in Truth No Beauty?
This episode has one of my favourite transitions in all of the show... A guest on the Enterprise has looked into an alien thing which drives people mad, then wandered off. Spock: "He must be going insane!" Cut to oblivious Scotty showing him the engine room. "The controls are all yours. And there's a bottle of scotch here if you can manage it.” Now, I've seen people complaining that, in the new Star Trek movies, the Enterprise gets damaged and destroyed too often, but after watching TOS, that seems about right. The crew are utterly inept, it should blow up much more often than it does.

3.6 – Spectre of the Gun
Kirk and co. are forced to recreate the Gunfight at the OK Corral. And the sets are only half built, clearly a budgetary thing written away in the plot as a flaw of the alien simulation. Ridiculous.

3.7 – Day of the Dove
An alien being turns all the ship’s phasers to swords and pits them off against the Klingons. Tropey and predictable.

3.8 – For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
This is an interesting one, with a pretty original idea in the society unknowingly confined to one asteroid-like ship and McCoy dying of a terminal illness. The deus ex machina when they happen to discover a cure to McCoy’s illness in the last minutes is spectacularly shit.

3.9 – The Tholian Web
The one where McCoy mixes Klingon nerve gas with brandy and prescribes it to all the crew, supposedly to keep them all sane from a spacefuck.

3.10 – Plato’s Stepchildren
Jesus Christ. The scene of the telekinetic space arsehole controlling Kirk and Spock and making them do stupid things lasts almost fifteen minutes, and then it does the same fucking thing again in the finale. They must be dancing around like pricks for half the episode.

3.11 – Wink of an Eye
There’s a nice idea in the time-accelerated aliens, but the mechanics of it don't fit together – weeks should pass for them as Scotty goes from the bridge to the transporter but they’re still trying to fix the same console, for example.

3.12 – The Empath
Another race of bulbous-headed, shiny-cloaked alien wankers do an experiment on the crew. Poorly paced, with lots of talk and not much action.

3.13 – Elaan of Troyius
This has got to be the most sexist episode of Star Trek yet. Yeah, even worse than Spock's Brain. The eponymous Elaan has been taken aboard the Enterprise and forced into marriage against her will, yet is still presented as the antagonist, a woman who dares speak up for herself and so needs to be tamed. Naturally, Kirk is an absolute dick to her and then bangs her. Then sends her to be married anyway.

3.14 – Whom Gods Destroy
The over-acting of the villain in this outshines even Shatner. He seems like a Rik Mayall character except not in a comedy. But the bit where he’s in Kirk’s body and throws a tantrum allows Shatner to pull all the over-acting plaudits back in his direction.

3.15 – Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
We were really excited about the blurb for this episode saying it features “two duo-chromatic and mutually belligerent aliens”. Sounds fun. But it turns out to be, of course, a bit naff. There’s an interesting if unoriginal point made about the pointlessness of going to war over racial differences, but it drags, and then that ending… the crew just let the two aliens run around the ship and transport themselves down to the doomed planet, and then Kirk decides to turn the Enterprise around and fuck off. I was really expecting him to beam down himself and resolve their differences, but no – it just ends.

3.16 – The Mark of Gideon
Good by season 3’s standards, but not by any other standards.

3.17 – That Which Survives
Another not bad episode. Spock is incredibly sassy in this one.

3.18 – The Lights of Zetar
The interesting-sounding library planet is barely used. Nothing new here. Very season 3.

3.19 – Requiem for Methuselah
Yawn. Kirk gets so pissed off at an old man that he wrestles him instead of taking the vital medical supplies to his dying crew.

3.20 – The Way to Eden
Some hippies take over the Enterprise worryingly easily and then fly it to a random planet which they assume, on no real evidence, is the mythical Eden. It’s not, and the fruit is poisonous. They eat it anyway and die. Everyone in this episode is a moron.

3.21 – The Cloud Minders
Very good by season 3’s standards, possibly its best yet, though that’s not saying much. It has a female character who’s more than just a shag for Kirk (Vanna, the leader of the rebellious miners), a strong point about how corporations should look out for their workers’ safety rather than treating them as a lower class, a visually interesting setting (predating Star Wars’ Cloud City), and several scenes of actual action. But it’s marred by the secondary female-of-the-week, a woman who falls for Spock and has absolutely no influence on the plot. All her scenes are just pointless. There’s also a scene where, after Kirk’s given the crew an order, Spock and Scotty repeat that order to each other and then decide to do it… padding much? Cut twenty minutes out and this could be an excellent episode.

3.22 – The Savage Curtain
The bizarreness of this episode’s opening, with Abraham Lincoln floating on a chair in space, sets us up for another good one. And despite the central concept (an alien who's technologically superior but lacks a sense of human morality uses the crew in some sort of experiment) being a classic Trek trope, the nature of the experiment (pitting historical heroes against villains) is a neat new take on it. But the whole thing does drag on, taking itself very seriously, and doesn’t exactly use the wackiness of the concept to its full potential. Also, Hitler should have been one of the villains. And, given that characters keep comparing this situation to historical wars, there should have been an army of thousands of Lincolns rather than four against four. Maybe it could be remade with a big Hollywood budget? Someone call Simon Pegg.

3.23 – All Our Yesterdays
They go into the past of a planet that has the same history as Earth’s (that again...), and Spock regresses to the hornier mindset that Vulcans apparently had 5000 years ago. Time works weirdly in Star Trek. There’s a bit where a guy tries to push Kirk into a time portal on something resembling a shopping trolley.

3.24 – Turnabout Intruder
We’ve finally finished! Which is a bit of a relief after the tedious season 3. It’s a bodyswap episode, which surprisingly Star Trek hasn’t done before. And it has been a while since Spock tried to court martial Kirk, or vice versa. Risks being dull and predictable, but is saved by some magnificent Shatnering.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Full review on Starburst.

Fast approaching its fortieth anniversary, 2000 AD is an iconic part of the British comics industry and has launched the careers of many incredible writers. But unlike writing for the screen, which has been dissected over and over, the work of these comics writers is relatively unstudied. The 2000 AD Script Book aims to remedy that, reprinting instalments from various recent strips alongside their original scripts.

This approach allows for much insight into the creative processes behind the works of many popular writers, from longstanding 2000 AD legends like John Wagner and Pat Mills to the stars of today like Al Ewing and Robbie Morrison. It’s particularly interesting – perhaps more so than reading film scripts – because the comics industry has no set format or style, and so each script varies from the next, and so studying all the styles involved will help budding writers find their own style – and reassure them that they’re not doing it ‘wrong’!

As well as enthusiastic writers, this book is also a great read for 2000 AD fans to dip in and out of, in order to learn more about how their favorite series came to be. There's a great range of characters covered – from Judge Dredd to Sláine via Durham Red, Bad Company, Brass Sun, and much more.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

On 25.10.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

Anyone who’s visited one of the many comic-cons held across Britain in recent years will know that there’s a hell of a lot of independent comic book creators on the scene, and so it’s difficult for readers to know where to start. The second volume of British Showcase Anthology, from publisher Markosia and editor Adam Cheal, aims to help out with this problem by sampling the works of many such creators.

There are twelve strips of around six pages each, all from different writers and artists. What immediately stands out is the sheer variety on offer, in terms of both stories told and art styles. Plus, the volume is careful to put bios of every creator in front of their strip, so that the reader can seek out more work from those behind their favourites.

As with any collection, there are inevitably a couple of stories that don’t match the quality of the others. However, as the purpose of the book is to celebrate and promote indie creators, we’d like to spend the rest of this review highlighting the ones we liked most.

Red Apple, from award-winning illustrator Simo, is a quirky tale of an elderly scavenger searching for his identity, with a sad twist but a happier ending. It’s remarkable for Simo’s distinctive and evocative art style, also seen on the cover of the volume.

The Heathen Masses, from writer Chris Tresson, artist Paul Moore, colourist Adam Brown and letterer Rob Jones, follows a young guy who joins up to the goat-worshipping Cult of Azazel, after hearing about them on the Internet. It’s a horror comedy with witty dialogue and a wicked twist.

And (Secret) Identity, from writer Chris Sides, artist Kier Gill, colourist Aljoša Tomić and letterer Ken Reynolds, is a twisted take on the superhero genre, with the Superman-esque figure not as heroic as he first seems. The art wouldn’t look out of place in a Marvel publication, and the story feels like it could easily be expanded into a full series.

And that’s a common feeling with many of the strips in this anthology – they’re a teaser for these creators’ work, and there’s so much more from them to be enjoyed. We’ve singled out these three stories but could easily praise many more – sure, there are a couple of weak links, but the very high overall quality of British Showcase Anthology – Volume 2 proves there’s a lot of talent in the indie comics scene.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is out now, featuring Universal Monsters, Fantastic Beasts, and impeccable spelling.

Amongst its pages, you'll also find my Doctor Who news column, Outside the Box, as well as my reviews of Matinee and Bowfinger, both out now on Blu-ray.

Buy it in stores or online.

Monday, 17 October 2016

On 17.10.16 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

The latest in Big Finish’s Early Adventures range, Philip Lawrence’s The Fifth Traveller begins in medias res, with the Doctor and his companions being chased through an alien city by some rather narked-off soldiers. It’s an unconventionally active beginning for a First Doctor story, albeit one that gives way to a more traditional set-up once the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and Jospa, having escaped in the TARDIS, land on the jungle planet of the Arunde.

What we have from this point onwards is, in large part, a good attempt to mimic First Doctor alien planet stories like The Web Planet and The Savages, with the team splitting up, exploring the jungle, and dealing with obstacles. 

There’s also a sub-plot about a device which will potentially give the Doctor control of the TARDIS’s destinations, which allows for an interesting exploration of his companions – Ian and Barbara would love to return home, which upsets the orphaned Vicki, who sees her fellow travellers as the only family she has. There’s some nice bonding between her and Jospa, who (as we all know) is an orphan too and so can emphathise with her.

This character dynamic allows our heroes’ story to feel well paced, which makes it a shame when the story cuts away to the ape-like Arunde; their story is a rather typical power struggle, and given that it takes until part three for any of them to properly meet any of the travellers, does drag on a bit. 

Of course, there is another element at play – you may have guessed from the title and the new companion being treated as if he’s been around for a while that something’s up with this Jospa character. Needless to say, the truth behind the fifth traveller is revealed over the course of the story – we won’t spoil the twists, but it’s a mystery that Lawrence weaves neatly into the plot.

Full review on Starburst.

The latest release in Big Finish’s monthly Doctor Who range makes a change from the usual four-part serial format and instead gives us an anthology of four short plays, each featuring Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor travelling with Mark Strickson’s Turlough.

The first story, The Memory Bank, is written by Big Finish newcomer Chris Chapman. The two travellers arrive on a planet where people who are forgotten cease to exist; Turlough unwittingly becomes the new ‘Memory Archivist’ while the Doctor runs around trying to uncover the mystery behind this society. It deals with its big sci-fi concept well, with some thoughtful things to say about the kinds of people who are undeservedly forgotten.

Next up is Paul Magrs’ The Last Fairy Tale, in which the Doctor is mistaken for a fabled Storyteller when visiting a village in medieval Europe. It’s a small scale but charming adventure which may initially seem like a simple fairy tale pastiche but actually has a very interesting message about the nature of stories we tell and those we represent within them.

In Repeat Offender by Eddie Robson, the Doctor and Turlough answer a distress call from 22nd century Reykjavik and find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery with an alien twist. It’s set entirely in one flat, but Robson’s sharp and witty dialogue prevents it from feeling slow, with a strong dynamic of mistrust between the Doctor, the flat’s resident, and the police inspector.

Finally, in Ian Potter’s The Becoming, the travellers explore a planet’s woodland and meet an alien girl on a quest to complete her ‘Becoming’ ceremony and thus determine her position within her town. It’s perhaps the more traditional story of the lot, with a twist you’ll see coming, but there’s nevertheless an interesting coming-of-age story with some reflection on finding your identity in life.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

My latest article for Creative Screenwriting is all about the villains. The strength of a film's antagonist can make or break a film, and I'd noticed that, in too many recent blockbusters, the villains were breaking it. The utter vacuousness of Krall in Star Trek Beyond pushed me over the edge, and I just had to do something about this. So hopefully Hollywood will all read this and then do better. If not, you could read it, at least.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

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Full review on Starburst.

Let’s be honest – continuity in Doctor Who is an omnishambles. Were the UNIT stories set in the '70s or '80s? Which Cybermen are from Mondas, and which from the parallel Earth? And how exactly was the universe changed by the Time War?

So enthusiastic is the show to shrug these questions off and run along to the next story that any book aiming to provide a complete history of the Who universe – or the, ahem, Whoniverse – has a monumental task ahead of it. But that’s just what George Mann and Justin Richards have set out to do.

Firstly, I must enthuse about how bloody gorgeous this book is; a big hardback tome with lushly padded cover, it looks awesome on any coffee table. As the book is set in-universe, it avoids using episode screenshots, which may take away from the immersion, and instead features new and stunning illustrations.

Onto the actual content… Mann and Richards mainly focus on the history of Earth, occasionally going off on tangents to discuss the Cybermen, Daleks, Time Lords and the Time War. Though the way they've assembled all points of human history has clearly had extensive work put into it, the downside is that it often comes across as a chronological list of TV Who stories – for example, summarising the 1651-set The Woman Who Lived followed by the 1666-set The Visitation without adding anything to the stories, making any meaningful link, or justifying why either would be seen as relevant to an in-universe history of Earth. Consequently, large portions of the book do seem a wasted opportunity, particularly in the age of wikis when all this can be looked up anyway.

The book does improve in the final chapter, which details the Time War – as this has never been fully chronicled on screen, Mann and Richards are able to take more creative licence, and provide as coherent and entertaining a history of said conflict as has ever been published, bringing in elements from Mann’s novel Engines of War as well as some original ideas.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

On 20.9.16 by KieronMoore in , , , , ,    1 comment

Full review on Starburst.

From The Producers to The Player, there’s no target Hollywood loves to satirise more than itself. This 1999 comedy, now being released on Blu-ray, is no exception, poking fun at everything going on in the film industry of its time through the story of Bobby Bowfinger, an enthusiastic but penniless film producer.

Bowfinger (Steve Martin, who also scripted the film) will stop at nothing to get his alien invasion movie made, even when the star he wants, Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) flat out rejects him. His idea is to have Ramsey star in the movie without knowing he’s in it – by following him around with a hidden camera and having the rest of their cast walk up to him in the street and act out their scenes. The thing is, Ramsey’s already the paranoid kind, being a member of a Scientology-esque organisation called MindHead, and this scheme only further convinces the star that aliens are after him.

It’s a great premise, and one that plays out in very entertaining fashion, with some clever satire mixed in with the surreal and zingy dialogue you’d expect from a Steve Martin script. A couple of the set pieces stop just short of being truly hilarious, but you’re never far away from the next laugh.

What really makes Bowfinger work is the performances of two comedy actors with very different approaches to their craft; Martin’s deadpan delivery of lines like “This film is only for Madagascar and Iran, neither of which follow American copyright law” makes Bobby Bowfinger a very watchable grifter, while Murphy’s over-the-top style perfectly suits the neurotic Ramsey. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

On 14.9.16 by KieronMoore in , , ,    2 comments

Full review on Starburst.

On the planet Prosper, the Doctor and Mel have brokered peace between the native mole-like Mogera and the humans from colony ship The Duke of Milan. A century later, the Doctor returns, this time with Ace and an older Mel in tow, only to find that this peace didn’t last, and Prosper is in a worse state than ever. Worse, it’s all the Doctor’s fault!

The Doctor’s guilt is an intriguing hook for a story, perhaps similar to the situation the Ninth Doctor found himself in in 2005’s Bad Wolf, and writer Matthew J Elliott gets some good material out of this. Meanwhile, in their third adventure together, Ace and Mel once again stand out as fine companions; Ace becomes a captive of a Mogera soldier and deals with it in her usual hard-nosed way, while Mel gets a chance to show off those computing skills.

If some of the character and location names seem familiar to you, you may have noticed that this story is inspired by The Tempest, featuring a shipwrecked crew, technology which seems like magic, and mysterious monsters; in fact, several characters directly quote Shakespeare’s play. This does add an edge of magical fantasy to proceedings, though it is odd that it’s never actually addressed – surely the Doctor’s met Mr. Shakespeare enough times to pick up on this?

Kubo is a young boy with the magical ability to make origami come to life with his music. Using his animated paper figures, he tells the story of his father, a great warrior who searched for three magical pieces of armour but was ultimately slain by the evil Moon King (who happens to be Kubo’s granddad from his mother’s side). But after a run-in with his evil aunts (yeah, this family’s really screwed up), Kubo must take on his father’s quest and find the armour himself.

From the animation studio that brought us Boxtrolls and ParaNorman, this is not only Laika’s best movie yet, it’s also their most ambitious; an epic adventure across a landscape inspired by Japan and its geography, with an incredible variety of visually imaginative characters, beautiful locations, and action set pieces.

There’s a touch of Ray Harryhausen in one particular scene, where our band of heroes fight a giant skeleton, and Laika’s blend of stop motion and CGI is as magical and engrossing today as Harryhausen’s films were in their time, each creature dynamic and terrifying, each character tangible and emotive. It’s honestly astonishing; this is the only film I recall seeing where a bit of a behind-the-scenes featurette has been included in the end credits, and yet it doesn’t come across as at all pretentious or jarring, so unique and impressive are the methods used.

But this technical brilliance would be nothing without a good story, and Laika have achieved that by giving us a good old hero’s journey epic, with wise mentors, mystical MacGuffins, and evil witches aplenty. Yet in a manner that made me think of classic Star Wars, it has a tight-knit family story set against this epic backdrop, with all the major characters tied into Kubo’s tale in a way that makes the film heart-wrenching as well as thrilling.

If there’s anything to criticise, it’s that the comic relief could be a little stronger – Matthew McConaughey’s dopey samurai Beetle provides a few chuckles, but the script could do with more of that; the attempts to make him a double act with the Monkey sometimes fall flat, perhaps due to a miscast Charlize Theron, who plays everything incredibly straight.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

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“Half man… half ant… all terror!” That’s the tagline not to Joe Dante’s Matinee but to Mant!, the schlocky film-within-a-film produced by John Goodman’s cigar-chomping Lawrence Woolsey. Woolsey likes to put on a good show, and for the screening of Mant! in Key West, Florida, he’s pulling out all the stops, not least his ‘rumble-rama’ which will simulate the film’s nuclear explosion. The problem is, this is October 1962, and not far away from Key West, the Cuban Missile Crisis is threatening to tear the world apart – which Woolsey sees as an opportunity to draw on his audience’s fears.

Following a group of local kids in the build-up to the Mant! screening, and then the show itself as it goes as out of control as you’d expect, Matinee is a fast-paced and very funny farce, with broad, daft humour aimed at a family audience. 

It’s also a film filled with nostalgia; this is Joe Dante paying tribute to his favourite childhood movies, and though John Goodman’s long monologues on the magic of cinema can get a little bit too much, the warmth of Dante’s affection for this genre shines through in the upbeat tone, particularly when we get to see scenes from Mant!. It perfectly tears apart the tropes of that genre, from the shrieking women to the patronising scientist: “now he’ll grow at an accelerated – or speeded up – rate”.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Originally released in 1991, Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday, based on the manga of the same name, only received an English dub this year, featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel.

Set in 1982, Isao Takahata's story sees 27-year-old Taeko (Ridley) take a break from her busy Tokyo job to visit distant relatives in the countryside. Here she meets Toshio (Patel), who left his office job to run an organic farm. As she helps out on the farm and bonds with Toshio, Taeko’s childhood memories are stirred.

The film takes a thoughtful tone, lingering on the details of Taeko’s nostalgia as her past informs her present and she begins to wonder whether she’s happy in her big city life. This allows the story to explore a range of themes, including the disparity between the countryside and the city and the role of women in Japanese society. It also has a lot to say about organic farming processes. Well, Toshio does. It’s all he seems to talk about, and the film forgets to be subtle about this. Believable, emotional conversations are sometimes ruined when he butts in with a non-sequiter about organic farming.

Despite this, though, it’s a beautifully constructed movie. The animation is as gorgeous as you’d expect from a Studio Ghibli movie, with equal attention paid to character design and expression as to the bustle of the city and the bright colours of the rural landscapes. Patel and Ridley both give sensitive, charming performances, though it is a shame that Ridley unnecessarily puts on an American accent. 

In certain moments, such as when Taeko’s memory of falling for a boy at school turns into her imagining herself flying, all the film’s themes and stylistic quirks come together to create something truly captivating. The joy of Only Yesterday lies in these moments and the way they’re juxtaposed against perfectly captured normality.
On 25.8.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

This weekend, I'll be at the Starburst Film Festival in Manchester. It's looking set to be a fantastic weekend, including:

  • Film screenings, from classics like Aliens to lesser-known cult films like Battletruck to a range of new independent shorts.
  • Drinking
  • Premieres of brand new episodes of Red Dwarf and Inside No. 9
  • More drinking
  • Q&As with famous guests including Steve Pemberton, Toby Whithouse and John Glen
  • Hangovers
If you're in Manchester, come along! Tickets are available here.

Also, to promote the event, I wrote this Pokémon Go-fuelled trip through Manchester. It's one of the weirder things I've penned for Starburst, but there you go.

Friday, 19 August 2016

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A long time ago in a galaxy far... no, wrong sci-fi series.

The new issue of Starburst is out now, and it's a Star Trek special! I actually started watching the original Trek series this month, so soon I'll be able to spot all the errors I missed when proofing this issue.

No Trek content from me, as you may have guessed, but I've written an event report covering July's Manchester MCM, my reviews of The Booth at the End and Warship Jolly Roger are printed, and you can catch up on all things Doctor Who with my Outside the Box column.

Starburst 428 is out now at some good newsagents! Or online!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Midnight Special is an odd film. It opens with two men and a boy on the run. The boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), is the biological son of one of the men, Roy (Michael Shannon). Roy and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) have abducted Alton from the Texas ranch on which he was brought up. Cut to the ranch, where we find out Alton’s adoptive father is the pastor of a fervently zealous congregation who believe that Alton has predicted the apocalypse. Alton, you see, has some kind of superpowers and has drawn the attention of both the FBI and the NSA, particularly NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver). Roy, Lucas, and Roy’s wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) are taking Alton to… well, to say any more would be to spoil the film’s many surprises.

One of the oddest things about Midnight Special is trying to work out when it’s set. Director Jeff Nichols has clearly gone for a 1970s Amblin look, with vintage cars and timelessly fusty suits aplenty, a look reinforced by Adam Stone’s unflashy cinematography; the people on the ass-backwards ranch, meanwhile, dress as if they’re from the 1870s. But then, is that NSA techie using a laptop? This is typical of the disorientating classic-meets-modern feel of Nichols’ movie, which takes influences from E.T. and Close Encounters, but also from modern superhero fare and from sadder, darker, grittier dramas. Whether this works or not is up for debate; at times, the film feels a little too pleased with its own profundity, and the confusing final act doesn’t answer half of the questions you’ll have been asking about the mysteries of Alton’s powers.

But yet, there’s something magical and moving about the whole thing, largely due to the family story that anchors all the weird gubbins. It’s a film about a father and mother who can’t begin to understand their son but love him unconditionally anyway, and Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst portray these characters with a tragic believability. Just don’t expect all these issues to be sorted out and tied up in a bow – Nichols may cite Spielberg as his main influence, but uplifting this is not.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Not mentioned, but worth adding here: when the pacing drops outside of the arena scenes, so does the colour scheme, and everything becomes '70s brown, from the suits and walls to James Caan's chest hair. The future used to be so drab.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Full review on Starburst.

After last month’s A Life of Crime saw Mel Bush re-united with the Seventh Doctor and Ace, the second part of this trilogy sees the TARDIS land the three of them in the heart of the Spanish Civil War. It’s 1938, and the tide is turning against the Republican forces. Captain Juan Romero and his men, along with the Doctor and companions, seek refuge from Franco’s bombers in the town of Farissa. But worse horrors await here, as townsfolk and injured soldiers are transformed by a nasty alien virus.

Though the Spanish Civil War is a lively and fascinating period of recent history, it’s been almost entirely untouched by Doctor Who media until now. Thankfully, it’s clear from the opening of Fiesta of the Damned that writer Guy Adams has really done his research and come up with a story that both fits well into this period and reflects on the themes of war and nationalism that inevitably arise. 

Plus, despite the historical detail and weighty themes, this is an action-packed story, with a gruesome and original villain for our heroes to fight, although one side plot near the end involving the Doctor faffing around with an alien computer does distract from this more exciting stuff. Ken Bentley’s direction brings this story to life – with carefully layered background sounds including townspeople and various animals, you can picture the military camp, town, and caves of Spain as if they were on your TV screen.

Monday, 8 August 2016

I've contributed another article to Creative Screenwriting, this time looking at Shane Black's The Nice Guys - a recent comedy noir which I loved - and comparing the tricks of its plotting to its noir antecedents, namely The Big Lebowski and The Big Sleep, bringing some of the wisdom of Alan Moore and Raymond Chandler into the mix.

Go read it!
On 8.8.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

Ever since the Millennium Falcon first took flight, the image of the ragtag band of space-faring criminals has been engrained in science fiction. The trope was perhaps perfected with Joss Whedon’s cult TV series Firefly, no doubt an influence on Warship Jolly Roger, the new comic series from Sylvain Runberg and Miquel Montlló.

This first 120-page volume opens amid a prison riot on planet Tullanium. Four mismatched convicts make a dash for a ship together – and there we have our set-up. As they’re on the run from the sinister authorities of the Confederacy, we get to know these characters. Jon Tiberius Munro is a former military officer imprisoned for a war crime he was forced to commit. Alisa Rinaldi is a notorious freedom fighter. Nikolai Kowalski is a violent and hot-tempered smuggler. And ‘Thirteen’ is a child genius who killed his parents for reasons unknown.

So while you may recognise some well-worn sci-fi tropes, Runberg’s story is excitingly plotted, with high stakes and great action, and the way this team develops, with hints to their pasts peppered throughout, is a joy to read. Outside of the main crew, the world of Warship Jolly Roger has clearly had a lot of thought put into it. Side characters, from black market dealers to Vexton’s military advisors, all have their own distinct characteristics, meaning that the dialogue, a few awkward moments of exposition aside, always feels believable and pacey. Artist Montlló has done a great job of designing characters, settings, and spacecraft alike – his style is cartoony enough to fit the fast and fun story and yet detailed enough to give the world an edge of grittiness. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

On 4.8.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    1 comment

Full review on Starburst.

From UK-based small press publisher Accent, this anthology does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a collection of five short tales, or moments, all with a classic adventure story feel.

It’s a nice variety of settings, pleasantly depicted in creator Colin Mathieson’s uncomplicated art style, and the two colourists do a good job of giving each tale a distinct atmosphere. The adventure story tone of the comics can seem old-fashioned, the Zulu-esque Day of the Dead Moon in particular, and the stories tend to end exactly how you’d expect from their set-ups. It’s a style that will put off some readers but charm others. All the stories are action-packed enough for the collection to rattle along at a quick pace,though, so you won’t get bored and will easily get through the whole thing over a lunch break.
On 4.8.16 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

Set during the Third Doctor’s exile on Earth, The Blame Game sees the Monk offering the Doctor a lift away from Earth in his TARDIS, an offer the Doctor can’t refuse. Wanting to see the stars for herself, Liz Shaw stows away on board. Naturally, things don’t work out too well, and the three of them become stranded on a mysterious spaceship.

The highlight of this enjoyable adventure is the distrusting relationship between the Doctor and the Monk, working side by side but trying to one-up each other. Though his Jon Pertwee impression is far from the man himself, Rufus Hound brings both Time Lords to life with comedic energy.

What elevates this story from just a fun bit of banter, though, is its placement within the Doctor’s exile and writer Ian Atkins’ exploration of what this means for the character. It’s the first time the Doctor’s been able to leave Earth for a long while, which causes him to reflect on where his place in the universe really is and how exile has changed him.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

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Full review on Starburst.

The Man sits at the end booth of a lonely roadside diner. Person after person comes to sit opposite him and talk. The Man makes Faustian deals with these people; they tell him something they want – for their husband’s Alzheimer’s to be cured, for the girl from a magazine centerfold to love them, etc. – and he gives them a task in return for that happening – from fathering a child to setting off a bomb in a restaurant. The only other condition is that they return to the diner regularly to update him on the details.

That’s the idea behind The Booth at the End, a show that may have passed over your radar when it first aired in 2010, followed by a second season in 2012 – but both seasons are now available as one DVD set. Sure, the concept may seem strikingly minimalist in a post-Breaking Bad TV landscape, in which we expect our shows to be blockbuster epics; this is exactly the opposite, as each season has just one set, with the stories playing out entirely over the diner table.

And yet these dialogues are remarkably compelling; Xander Berkeley’s Man interrogates his visitors with laid back sincerity, refusing to give direct help but guiding them into analysing their own flaws and desires, and the show invites us to take the same inquiring attitude. Even when some stories in the second season drag, there are more hits than misses and the pace keeps it watchable; each season is comprised of five twenty-two minute episodes, so you can easily binge the whole thing in one night.

Monday, 4 July 2016

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A gang are tasked by a Russian mafia boss to steal data from a high security facility, but there’s no way they can lift it before the cops show up. Their idea is to initiate a ‘Triple 9’ scenario – if a police officer is shot elsewhere in town, all the cops will converge there, giving the gang their opportunity. Luckily, two of the robbers are corrupt officers themselves, and one has an overzealous new partner who could be the perfect target.

The key to a good genre film is to provide the familiar thrills of the genre in question while finding an original hook that sets the film apart. As a crime flick, John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 ticks these boxes – you’re never far from a car chase or a heist (the opening chase sequence is particularly suspenseful), and the ‘cops within the gang’ angle provides a fresh take on a well-worn dynamic. It also has one hell of a cast list.

But Triple 9 fails to live up to all its promise. The story becomes more convoluted than it really should and the big heist sequence is a let-down, as certain plot points contrive to get everyone into place. And then, rather than satisfyingly tying up all its character stories, the film’s final act descends into repetitive, nihilistic nastiness. 

Triple 9, then, is reminiscent of Hillcoat’s Lawless – a promising crime movie that ends up disappointingly mediocre.
On 4.7.16 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

The Club follows a group of priests and their housekeeper living in an isolated town, but it’s as far from Father Ted as you could get. This is a house where priests are sent to repent for horrible crimes that the Church won’t report to the authorities for fear of scandal. Yes, Pablo Larraín’s film deals with the horrific sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, already brought to our attention this year by the awards-sweeping Spotlight.

One day, a new priest joins the house and is immediately accosted by Sandokan, a man he’d abused as a child, leading to the priest committing suicide. This draws the attention of Father Garcia, a younger priest intent on shutting the ‘retirement home’ down.

Where Spotlight excelled was in drawing attention to the horrors of the scandal by giving voice to its victims rather than the Church’s attempts to defend itself. The Club has a much tougher ask, and many viewers will be understandably put off by the very idea of a film focusing on characters who could commit such monstrous crimes. However, this is no clichéd and undeserved tale of repentance; Larraín and his co-writers approach this subject matter with no agenda other than to explore the psychological and moral complexities behind the situation.

The film, however, would not be half as interesting without the character of Sandoken, who sticks around in the town to torment the other priests. He’s a very complex figure, his views on sexuality and religion having been screwed up by his childhood traumas.

But don’t expect a dramatically satisfying ending; perhaps fittingly for the very real issues it explores, The Club is a melancholy film which offers more questions than answers. Ultimately, it's a tough but recommended watch.