Tuesday, 29 March 2016


So far, Marvel’s Netflix-exclusive series have been very impressive. Daredevil season one was a gritty crime drama, Jessica Jones was a feminist exploration of abuse; both took the Marvel universe and used it to tell very serious, relevant stories with distinct styles, and yet never lost the sense of humour and fun that typifies the Marvel superhero adventure. It’s no wonder both were brought back for second seasons.

Daredevil season two kicks off pretty much where the first left us; Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, and Karen Page’s law firm is building a reputation for itself, and with Wilson Fisk in prison, there's space in Hell's Kitchen for a new villain – enter Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher.

The first four episodes focus on Frank Castle’s reign of terror on New York’s gangs, and are fantastic. Castle is an instantly iconic antagonist, and the series wisely avoids too much build-up by pitting him against Daredevil early, ending the first two episodes with gloriously nasty punch-ups. It also uses the difference between the two to explore the ethics of vigilante justice, making this more than just a shoot-em-up; Jon Bernthal’s Castle may be a mass murderer, but he does live by some sort of moral code, exemplified by the chilling scene in which he beats to death the gun store owner who tried to sell him child porn. Like Fisk, this villain is made all the more scary, the fight against him all the more tense, because of how we get to spend time with him and understand him; the sad climax at the end of episode four, in which a defeated Castle reveals his tragic backstory to Daredevil, heartbreakingly explains his motives.

And then he’s put in jail. The season could end there. Until Elektra appears.

A face from Matt’s past, Elektra is a kick-ass mercenary with no restraint about killing. Now, it’s great to have a female superhero who isn’t sexualised, and Élodie Yung puts in a superb performance, complete with a miscellaneous European accent that’s a joy to listen to. But the story that she brings to Hell’s Kitchen with her is so depressingly mediocre compared to everything else going on. She’s tracking the Hand, an ancient cult of ninjas who are going to unleash war on the world because… well, just because. A lot of mystic fluff is talked about but it all comes down to an excuse to get Daredevil into more and more punch-ups with a lot of ninjas.

Over the next few episodes, this storyline is presented in parallel with that of Frank Castle’s trial, a storyline which does carry on asking interesting questions about what to do with vigilante killers and to what extent we should sympathise with dangerous criminals. It’s actually an interesting legal drama – a sentence it’s a little odd to say about something set in the same world as Ant-Man – and it's good that Foggy and Karen, too often relegated to supporting status in the first season, both get opportunities to shine.

The throughline connecting these two stories, however, is the struggle Matt Murdock faces to juggle both his lives, a story type familiar to fans of Dexter, or indeed any superhero tales from back when secret identities were the in thing. It does take oddly long for either Karen or Foggy to ask him where he’s been wandering off to as opposed to simply telling him not to do it again, but my main problem with this story was in attempting to understand what’s going on in Matt’s mind – his loyalties seem to change every episode between determination to help Castle and determination to take down the Hand, between affection for Karen and affection for Elektra, and it’s rarely clear why, meaning the hero I grew to like throughout season one comes across here as rather shallow.

Meanwhile, things start moving rapidly again in Castle’s storyline towards the end of the season, when he’s greeted in prison by none other than Wilson Fisk – a well-kept surprise and a welcome cameo which makes for an exciting (if very macho!) sub-plot. Yep, the prison system is so corruptible that Fisk can still be the Kingpin behind bars, and he’s terrifying as ever when he’s ordering the guards around. And Castle beating up Dutton’s goons is gloriously brutal.

Fisk helps Castle escape, leading us steadily towards the endgame… well, sort of. There isn’t much of one, as the final two episodes are a bit of a disappointment.

In the penultimate episode, Karen works out that Ray Schoonover, Castle’s former Commanding Officer, became a drug baron called the Blacksmith and set up the deal which resulted in the death of Castle’s family in order to get revenge on him for some wartime incident, and subsequently killed the DA in order to frame him – what? It’s a scheme so needlessly elaborate that it detracts from everything that’s been great about Castle’s story so far. (OK, so Schoonover may not have been the Blacksmith but was working alongside him, but still… what?) And then Schoonover kidnaps Karen and Frank needs to rescue her, Frank kills Schoonover, and thats kind of it. Over and done with before we've had time for the sheer nonsense of it to settle in.

The final episode throws this clearly unfinished story aside and focuses on Daredevil and Elektra’s war with the Hand, who kidnap several people Daredevil’s previously rescued, including – you guessed it – Karen. This season had been doing a reasonably good job of letting her lead her own story and then she ends up as a damsel in distress two episodes in a row. And compared to some of the incredible action scenes earlier in the season, the fight this results in is a rather weak climax, with Daredevil and Elektra beating up some ninjas on a rooftop as the police stand around obliviously, doing fuck all. Matt is, by this point, completely and arbitrarily in love with Elektra, meaning it takes her supposed death for him to remain as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and for a third season to be possible.

The point of these last two episodes, it seems, is to set up questions for future series. What went on between Castle and Schoonover? What’s on the Micro disk? Is the now-resurrected Elektra really the Black Sky, and what was all that crap about anyway? For that matter, what was that bloody big hole in the ground? By focusing on teasing what’s to come, the finale fails to satisfactorily conclude what we’ve had.

Don’t get me wrong; Daredevil is still one hell of a good show. The casting is perfect, the action is electric, and the Frank Castle storyline is a thrilling and intriguing take on the vigilante justice trope, almost as good as season one’s Murdock/Fisk duality. But the boring, motiveless ninja villains let this season down, as does the development of Murdock’s character, meaning it doesn’t work as a coherent and whole story.

Still, there’s got to be a third season now, right?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

On 24.3.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    2 comments

If there’s one minority group that has a hard time finding representation on movie screens, it’s the transgender community. The Danish Girl may have signalled that the tide is beginning to turn, but came under flak for casting cisgender Eddie Redmayne in the eponymous role, and for being yet another isn’t-Eddie-Redmayne-so-sad-cue-tinkly-piano-music piece of Oscar bait. A much more interesting film appeared around the same time, albeit on very limited release – Tangerine.

Sean S. Baker’s movie follows transgender sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Sin-Dee finds out that her boyfriend and pimp Chester (The Wire’s James Ransone) has been cheating on her, so angrily sets out to confront him. 

It may sound light on plot, and indeed it is, but this is a film very much in the realist tradition. Rodriguez and Taylor genuinely were sex workers in this environment before turning to acting, which gives the performances a real verisimilitude and makes Sin-Dee and Alexandra a lot of fun to spend time with, with their breakneck-paced banter and bitching providing several genuinely funny moments. 

But these funny moments are juxtaposed with sad ones, and the two girls are never far away from someone ready to use or abuse them. The story is never melodramatic or over-plotted; rather, this series of moments, happy and sad, is a typical day in the life of people like Sin-Dee and Alexandra, and all the more affecting for it.

What’s also remarkable is the way Tangerine was shot – on the iPhone 5s. Though the opening scene, a typical two-way conversation in a diner, does feel oddly clunky, worries are soon assuaged by the remarkable handheld shots sweeping through LA’s busy neighbourhoods. Honestly, it’s filmed with more energy and style than many movies with a hundred times the budget – a reminder that a bank-breakingly expensive kit is no longer needed to make a great film.

And that’s important, because the community Tangerine explores would undoubtedly be considered too niche for a major studio to consider making a film about, and yet transgender sex workers are just as worthy of depiction in cinema as hardened snipers or intrepid journalists. This slice of modern realism is both poignant and funny; if you weren’t able to catch it on its narrow cinema release, make sure you pick up the DVD.
On 24.3.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Longer review on Starburst.

With over fifty years of history, and as many bumps in the road as there have been changes in style, Doctor Who is a fascinating series to analyse – and certain stories are more intriguing than others. It’s with this in mind that Obverse Books have begun their series The Black Archive, in which each publication will spend twenty to forty thousand words picking apart a single televised story. And what better story to start on than that which brought Doctor Who back to TV screens after a sixteen-year hiatus, and set the groundwork for the popular phenomenon it would soon become?

This hundred-page volume from Jon Arnold comprises of four essays analysing Russell T Davies’ 2005 series opener Rose and its place within Who history. First, Arnold explores Rose as a starting point for new viewers, comparing it to the successful simplicity of An Unearthly Child and the not-so-successful 1996 TV movie. Next, he analyses Davies’ take on the character of the Doctor, and the decision to give him some proper character development, perhaps inevitable given the changes in genre TV since 1989. Third, Arnold talks about the character of Rose Tyler and Davies’ success in making the companion an equal to the Doctor in terms of dramatic possibilities. And in the final chapter, he discusses Davies himself, and how the writer’s crossing of populist sensibilities and artistic ambition crafted Doctor Who into the massive success it became.

Though it’s not a long book, and can be read in one easy afternoon, the first Black Archives instalment has a lot of interesting things to say about its episode of choice and what made it so successful. For those not so keen on Eccleston’s Doctor, Obverse are releasing three other titles this month, covering The Massacre, The Ambassadors of Death, and Dark Water/Death in Heaven – all the way from Hartnell to Capaldi! There are so many more Who stories worthy of this kind of quality criticism, so we’ll be looking out for what’s next. 

To Whovians raised with tales of River Song and the Weeping Angels, time travel paradoxes may seem like a ubiquitous part of the Doctor Who mythos, yet in the classic series, time travel was rarely more than a way of getting the Doctor and companion into place for the story to begin. The Paradox Planet, the latest in Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor range, turns that on its head, putting Tom Baker’s Doctor, along with Lalla Ward’s Romana and John Leeson’s K9, into a real timey-wimey situation.

Though don’t worry if you can’t stand that term, for Jonathan Morris’ story hits a good balance between Moffat-esque shenanigans and the classic format which Big Finish always imitate well. Travelling in the vortex, the Doctor and Romana encounter a Time Tank and follow it to Aoris – a world where the past is at war with the future. Angered by the greed which led to their planet being polluted, the inhabitants of ‘Era 25’ are sending troops back into ‘Era 14’ to gather resources and steal endangered species. The people of Era 14 are retaliating, leaving bombs set to detonate at the time their enemies are born.

With both time zones ignorant of their own part in the planet’s destruction, the story could easily be read as a commentary on climate change and the effects war has on the environment. It’s not preachy, though; this allegory adds a layer of depth to a thoroughly entertaining story. What’s also praiseworthy is that the story is very well suited to the TARDIS team it features, and all three lead actors give convincing performances with the feel of a true 1970s serial. Plus, robotic dog fans will be pleased to know, K9 gets to be essential to the plot for once!

With a fun concept that makes original use of time travel and allows Baker, Ward and Leeson to shine, The Paradox Planet is another success for the Fourth Doctor Adventures range. It’s actually the first half of a two-parter, so we’re eagerly anticipating the end of the adventure in next month’s Legacy of Death.
On 24.3.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

The latest issue of Starburst magazine has very figuratively crashed its way into shops. It's a Captain America: Civil War-themed edition, with features looking forward to the film and back over the comics that inspired it.

There are also five of my reviews printed in this mag – Doctor Who audio The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, the Blu-ray release of The City of Lost Children, and the comics Goldtiger, Planet of the Damned/Death Planet, and Man:Plus 2. Yes, these reviews were all online first, but you can actually physically touch them this time. I always make sure my reviews feel good on the skin.

And then there's the Outside the Box column, in which I desperately look for news about Doctor Who in a year in which there is no Doctor Who. I think I've got away with it.

If all this is activating your excitement receptacles, go forth and buy Starburst 423 - available from WH Smiths, Tesco, specialist retailers, or RIGHT FLIPPING HERE.

Monday, 14 March 2016

After achieving cult success with surreal post-apocalyptic comedy Delicatessen, directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro got to work on fantasy epic The City of Lost Children, available now on Blu-ray.

The film’s most distinctive character is its villain – Krank, a scientist whose inability to dream has accelerated his ageing. In order to save himself, he’s been kidnapping local children and stealing their dreams. And then he makes the clumsy mistake of taking the kid whose big brother is Ron Perlman. Perlman plays circus strongman One, who sets out on a quest to get his bro back, somehow teaming up with orphan Miette along the way.

The most striking thing about The City of Lost Children is how amazing it looks. Between Darius Khondji’s cinematography, Jean Rabasse’s production design, and Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumes, Jeunet and Caro’s team have created an engrossing expressionist artwork. The winding, semi-futuristic, semi-Victorian city brings to mind Metropolis; the collection of odd characters, including ‘Uncle Irvin’, a brain in a tank who speaks through gramophones, resemble Terry Gilliam at his most off-the-wall; and the journey to Krank’s ocean lab, surrounded in vibrant green fog, is very much inspired by the imagination of Jules Verne.

The problem is that, with everything so whimsical, the story feels rather slight. Whereas Gilliam, for example, uses surrealism to great satirical effect, Jeunet and Caro’s story is a simple fairy tale, and not much more, while One and Miette’s growing bond is not entirely convincing – it shows up far too often that these two heroes are the least interesting characters in the film.

So, The City of Lost Children may not have a particularly affecting narrative, but visually it’s a masterpiece. Let yourself get carried away by the whimsy and beauty of its world.

Friday, 4 March 2016

[Minor Spoilers]

Tough but important viewing. 

It’s maybe a cliche that the ‘worthy’ films dealing with Big Issues get trotted out at this time of year, but the story Spotlight deals with is truly horrifying, particularly because it’s so recent and because the system that allowed it to happen is still very much in place (as confirmed by the final revelation that the Cardinal who covered up the abuses in Boston was later promoted to a post in Vatican City).

But Tom McCarthy’s film treats this horrifying subject very astutely, giving voices to the victims, as the Spotlight reporters themselves did, and never veering into sensationalism. The process of reporting is made tense through the many obstacles thrown in the team’s way and the pace with which the scale of the thing they’re investigating constantly rises, becoming more shocking with each revelation.

I’ve seen a post going around Twitter criticising McCarthy and Josh Singer's script because we hardly get to know the characters, not seeing much of their personal lives. Rubbish. That’s not what this film is about at all. These are characters for whom the case they’re on is everything, and it struck me that whenever we do see their domestic lives, it’s because their work is intruding into it - Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) realising a priest ‘treatment house’ is around the corner from his family, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) no longer being comfortable going to church with her grandmother - all acting as a reminder that this scandal happened so close to home for so many people.

No, we do get to know these characters as truthseekers devoted to their cause, and character is revealed through their interactions in the office and with interviewees. All the cast are thoroughly convincing, from the little quirks (Mark Ruffalo’s very particular walk with his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans) to the moments of intensity - the scene where Ruffalo's Mike Rezendes gets angry at Robby (Michael Keaton) for holding back on the story is not one to be forgotten - “It was two children! It could have been me or you!".

But ultimately, the main thing I took from Spotlight was not my admiration for the team of journalists, or for the actors portraying them, but shock at the sheer scale of the abuse.

Those ending cards. Fuck.

Longer version of this review on Starburst.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana really liked their European holidays. In City of Death, one of the most renowned classic Who stories, they ran around Paris gleefully taking in its architecture and culture, occasionally stopping to foil an alien plot. The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, the latest Fourth Doctor audio from Big Finish, takes a lot of inspiration from that serial – this time, the pair take a trip to Budapest, 1980, where a vampire is on the prowl.

From the opening scenes, the City of Death influence is clear. Our two Gallifreyans jog around the city, with the Doctor gushing about how wonderful it all is and Romana being pedantic about his musical quotes. Eddie Robson, one of Big Finish’s best writers when it comes to comedy, provides a lightness and wit reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ writing for the show.

The threat they encounter is less typically alien and more horror-inflected; Mark Bonnar, who recently appeared as unhinged Time Lord the Eleven in Doom Coalition, is quickly becoming Big Finish’s go-to villain, and here, he puts in a very different but equally sinister performance as the unsettlingly misogynistic vampire Zoltán Frid. 

The other memorable supporting character is Celia Soames, an enthusiastic vampire hunter on the trail of Frid, whom she believes to be Dracula himself. Having a British detective in the second companion role is a deliberate allusion to City of Death’s Duggan, and yet the secret Celia hides sets her apart as a truly fascinating character, as does the great performance from Being Human’s Kate Bracken. 

The Labyrinth of Buda Castle is a fast-paced adventure that carefully balances its witty charm with its genuinely spooky take on the vampire. Fans of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who won’t be disappointed by this release. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Issue 12 of Doctor Who Adventures is out today, and I've written the comic strip, GHOSTS OF THE SEAS!

It's an exciting adventure featuring robot ghost pirates, a futuristic oil rig, and the Battle of Trafalgar. And more. Shiver me timbers, indeed. I'm quite happy with this one - particularly because I was surprised no Doctor Who media had ever done a take on the Flying Dutchman before!

Artwork is by Russ Leach, with colours by John Burns. Both do great jobs as ever.

Doctor Who Adventures 12 is available from your local supermarket, newsagent, or tavern.

Here's the cover and a preview: