Thursday, 20 July 2017

On 20.7.17 by KieronMoore in , , ,    1 comment

Full review on Starburst.

The X-Men film series has become a mess. It has tried to juggle a huge amount of characters, and as well as the resultant continuity clusterfucks, instalments like Apocalypse have ended up as unfocused and dull CGI-heavy smash-ups, big on epic spectacle but low on character stakes.

This year’s Logan attempted to remedy that by focusing on a small number of characters and telling a different kind of story. Tasked with protecting a young girl with powers similar to his own and with the ailing Professor X in tow, the man who was once Wolverine takes a journey across America that uses the visual cues of the modern Western much more than those of the typical superhero movie. In Logan’s worn-down settings, fights are violent and bloody, and heroes need to be tough and brutal rather than stylishly super.

What’s important, though, is that Logan uses its grim aesthetic to serve poignant character stories, the strongest in the entire X-Men franchise. Xavier’s Alzheimer’s is a particularly clever use of the superhero genre to tell a human story, but this is Hugh Jackman’s movie, really, his send-off to the franchise that has defined his career, and his performance here channels every hard-drinking, gruff-talking gunslinger you’ve ever seen. 

Logan, then, is low on epic spectacle but high on character stakes – the opposite of the X-Men franchise at its worst. 

Young Pauline explores a Kent countryside village and meets an oddly welcoming stationmaster with a gnome-like hunch, beard and hat, as well as his brutish, half-witted friend. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Pauline gets herself murdered very early on in the film, and the focus then shifts onto this strange duo as they try to cover up what’s occurred.

The Orchard End Murder is a strange, strange movie, willing to take completely unexpected turns at any moment. You think you have a handle on its idyllically dull portrayal of village life, complete with lengthy small talk, and then suddenly someone slams a live rabbit into a fruitcake before ripping its innards out. And that’s just the first ten minutes.

Indeed, there are many odd decisions in this film’s story, and not all in a good way. Some scenes make little sense, such as the men’s decision to bury the body a few metres away from where the police are currently standing, and the way that the story ends couldn’t feel more forced. 

Nevertheless, it has an odd charm about it and never feels boring, perhaps due to a combination of just how unpredictable the whole thing is and Peter Jessop’s artful camerawork, which carefully juxtaposes the beautiful country landscapes with the much more sinister.

The Doctor and Romana materialise the TARDIS underground in the opening of Subterranea, the latest Fourth Doctor audio play from Big Finish. But this doesn’t mean they’re far from civilisation – this planet’s mole-like inhabitants live in huge vehicles called Drill-towns, which constantly mine their way around the rocks. And there’s another race among the rocks; the cyborgs known as Silex are on the prowl and have a habit of feeding on the Drill-towns.

The story, from veteran Who writer Jonathan Morris, plays out simply but enjoyably, well fitted to the hour-long format and to the era of Who in which it’s set. There are some nice twists, particularly at the end of part one cliffhanger, and the Silex are effectively threatening villains, if at times overly reminiscent of the Cybermen. Perhaps a name not starting with the ‘cy’ sound would have helped.

What makes Subterranea well worth a listen, though, is not the plot but the characterisation of the race who live on this planet. There’s an Industrial Revolution-esque style to them, which makes the whole thing feel like a Dickens novel crossed with Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

On 18.7.17 by KieronMoore in    No comments

I've taken a short holiday in Berlin over the past week. Here's what I learned:
  • The Germans really love their techno music. Not only is it played in all the bars and clubs, but sometimes people sit next to you on the train and start playing techno at you.
  • I don’t like techno.
  • They also really love their beer. They drink it in the street, and shops that appear to be corner shops actually sell little but beer. I first thought that beer was really cheap, but then I realised it’s everything else that’s expensive. One club I was in charged €3 for the cheapest beer, and €2,50 for water. 
  • Cider doesn’t exist.
  • Marlene Dietrich was the coolest film star ever (and the film museum is amazing).
  • There's a U-bahn line called U2, and imagining the train's being driven by Bono never stops being funny.
  • The term for East Berliners is ‘Ossis’, though I actually met more Aussies than Ossis - Berlin is a prime destination for Australian tourists.
  • And some New Zealanders, though never compare them to Aussies.
  • The entire history and culture of New Zealand.
  • Germany's equivalent of WHSmiths is called McPaper.
  • There are so many types of absinthe, with names like ’Suicide’, ‘Leaky Crucifix’ and ‘Death Suckle’ (I made one of those up).
  • Lola Rennt is even more of a '90s masterpiece when you're watching it in a hip Berlin cinema rather than across two German lessons at the end of term.
  • The Germans sure know how to party. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe...
  • English really does seem to be the lingua franca, and I heard it probably as much as I heard German. Visitors to Germany, wherever they’re from, are more likely to know English than German, so bartenders, waiters, etc. tend to switch to it very quickly when they realise someone ain’t from around these parts.
  • Despite this, I managed to maintain a few conversations in German, but my Achilles heel is 'sorry' - if I got in someone’s way in the street, I’d immediately say this and forget to even attempt a German equivalent.
  • If they get in someone’s way in the street, the Germans generally don’t attempt to apologise in any language.
  • They do, however, have perfect etiquette when it comes to waiting for the red man at road crossings. Even if there’s no traffic at all.
  • The burgers at ‘The Bird’ are the best in the world, ever.
  • Speaking of birds, the term for what happens to one when it flies into an aeroplane engine is ‘ingested’.

Monday, 17 July 2017

On 17.7.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    1 comment

Jodie Whittaker has been announced as the Thirteenth Doctor. I personally reckon she'll do an excellent job, but not everyone is convinced. In light of the overblown controversy and awful, nasty comments all over social media, here are my reactions to all the arguments against casting a female Doctor Who:

"The Doctor has always been a man!" - He was always William Hartnell until he was Patrick Troughton. He was always over 45 until he was Tom Baker. He was always English until he was Sylvester McCoy.

"Time Lords can't change gender!" - Humans can. If anything, it should be easier for Time Lords.

"But it's ridiculous!" - Mate, the Doctor lives in a police box that's bigger on the inside and travels in time and space. If the gender change is where it becomes too difficult for you to believe, the problem isn't with the show.

"It's lazy, why don't they make an original show with a female lead?" - There should be more original sci-fi/fantasy with female leads, sure. Some international productions have managed that, such as Orphan Black and Buffy. But it's really difficult to get genre shows produced in Britain - writers I've spoken to who've pitched sci-fi to the BBC or ITV have always concluded that commissioners hate the genre. Doctor Who is kind of all we have; it has that existing platform to provide a role model to young girls, to show them that they can be heroes too, and good on it for using that. Plus, it's not only all we have, it's iconic - when they cast a Doctor, they're not just casting an actor to be in a TV show, but someone who'll represent the brand at conventions, whose face will be on lunchboxes and action figures, who'll be part of the show's mythology for as long as it runs - what other series has that platform to make such a statement?

"Boys need role models, too!" - They can still watch it. Lots of boys liked Rey in Star Wars. It's healthy for them to have female role models so they don't grow up to be like those men who've emerged on the internet since yesterday.

"Rubbish, when I were a lad I wouldn't be seen watching something with all girls in!" - Oh for fuck's sake, the companion will probably be a dude, alright?

"It should be all about the quality of the writing, not feminist politics!" - Well, yeah, obviously quality storytelling is important. No one's saying it isn't, or that Chibnall now has a free pass to write a whole series of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship-level cack. But representation matters too, and in things such as how they represent society through the diversity of their characters, all stories are political. The gender imbalance in TV can't be ignored, and is a separate issue to how good the scripts are.

"What next, Jane Bond?" - The reaction to that would be hilarious, but the gender flip might actually be a more awkward fit. Bond's always been stuck in that '60s macho spy mentality, whereas Who is about change and forward thinking. Or maybe that's why they should do Jane Bond.

"It's not the same show as in my childhood!" - Well, obviously not, that was 40 years ago, old buddy. Times change. But the old ones are available on DVD if all you want is to replay the past. Except the ones that got wiped.

"It's ruined my childhood!" - D'awww.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

On 11.7.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    27 comments

Well, this is exciting.

My graphic novel, Buddha: An Enlightened Life, is now available internationally!

It follows the story of the Buddha from his early days as the unsatisfied Prince Siddhartha Gautama, through his enlightenment and building of his sangha, all the way up to his legacy as the founder of a global religion.

The book was a lot of fun to write, and I'm very grateful to the team at Campfire Graphic Novels for putting the thing together, to Rajesh Nagulakonda for his gorgeous art, and to Jason Quinn for recommending me to Campfire.

I'm also grateful to my mum, for texting me the below photo of her copy and so reminding me to post this.

And here's the obligatory link to the Amazon UK page. Help fund my continued existence!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Where to start, other than by saying that I loved every moment of that. Well, not quite every moment, but most of them.

After the creepy horror-inflected introduction of the Cybermen in World Enough and Time, this episode shifts the tone into an action-packed sci-fi Western – Cy-Noon, perhaps – with the Doctor taking charge of a small town preparing itself for a Cyber onslaught. 

The Moffat era’s two- or three-parters have tended to shift tone between episodes, with the result sometimes being very jarring (see this series’ Monk trilogy for the most disastrous example of that), while last year’s finale also incorporated some Western elements alongside assorted bits and bobs of genres, creating an engaging but somewhat jumbled episode. The Doctor Falls, in comparison, both flows on nicely from part one and feels very assured about everything it’s trying to be; it transitions between its various threads neatly, and the chronological jumping around feels like it adds to the experience rather than being a gimmick. It feels like, if I’m allowed to make assumptions, this is Steven Moffat when he finishes the first draft in good enough advance to have time to rewrite carefully.

But that overall structural solidity would be worthless if all the elements going into the episode weren’t good by themselves. Thankfully, they are...

The standout of The Doctor Falls, the part that will make it very easily rewatchable, is the Master and Missy. Last week’s cliffhanger promised a ‘Two Masters’ scenario and boy, does this deliver on that fan dream. Every moment Michelle Gomez and John Simm are on screen together is completely delightful. Them discussing ways to kill the Doctor (like a Time Lord Natural Born Killers, with the homicidal playfulness of Joker and Harley Quinn), the dance on the rooftop, even the boner joke (because of course the Master would try to shag himself). Every scene with the Masters has at least one line that made me laugh out loud, but it’s not just the jokes that work... 

My criticisms still stand about how the ‘redeeming Missy’ arc played out (or didn’t) across the first ten episodes of Series 10, but the way it’s ended has been perfect, and pitting her against her previous incarnation is such a clever move. Simm’s Master was always focused on his madcap evil plans, whereas Missy has been more interested in playing up her friendship with the Doctor, a difference which makes them a perfect pairing for this story. And, while both play their Masters as very larger than life, there’s a subtlety underneath the mayhem here, with Gomez really showing that she can do heavy emotional stuff as well as the comedy schtick she’s had nailed down since she began the role; their little interplay after she refers to Cyber-Bill as ‘her’ rather than ‘it’ is just one of many examples of that.

Speaking of which... Bill’s a Cyberman. The scenes where she learns what she’s become and tries to repress it are beautifully played, allowing Mackie to give one last impressive performance while revealing her horrifying new nature at just the right moments. Yes, there are similarities to Oswin’s story in Asylum of the Daleks, but this is very differently handled, playing up the emotion and horror from the beginning rather than holding it back for a twist.

And then we have Bill’s ending, being rescued by the Heather alien water spaceship thing from The Pilot. Hmm. I’d been worried that Bill wouldn’t get a proper ending, and while she does at least get this, it feels rushed; the one part of an otherwise flawless episode that grated for me. It’s all too convenient, and it’s been too long since we last saw Heather; perhaps if she’d reappeared in the middle of the series so Bill’s relationship with her could be developed and her seemingly limitless superpowers could be explained, this ending would have worked better. The similarity to Clara’s exit just one series ago is also a problem; is it not possible for a companion just to decide to leave the TARDIS any more? On the plus side, it did allow for a gay kiss on primetime Saturday night sci-fi, which is wonderful (and interestingly, Bill is the only new series companion to leave the show without having kissed the Doctor at any point – glad we’ve got past that weird recurring trope).

Keeping with the companions, it’s nice that Nardole gets some development. I always suspected that he’d prove himself to be more than just comic relief; there were hints of that throughout the series, but he fully comes into his own here, and Matt Lucas is seriously impressive in the scene where he realises he has to take responsibility and lead the town. This conflict-averse alien criminal was a refreshingly different type of companion for the Doctor to take on, and here we get the impression that he’s matured and improved himself through his travels.

On a whole, then, the character work in The Doctor Falls feels, like the episode's pacing and tone, assured. Sure, the villagers may be thinly sketched, but there's meaningful development for the Doctor, two companions, and two Masters – which is three more characters than Moffat usually focuses on! The dialogue is calmed down, as well, less gimmicky and catchphrase-driven than in many of Moffat’s flashier episodes, and much better for it, to the extent that it jars on the rare occasion Moffat falls back into his more annoying habits (the gag about John Simm's face being round, for example, is a reminder of his predilection for forced jokes about facial features, but it comes in the middle of a scene full of genuinely cracking lines).

Oh yeah, the Doctor. Not talked about him yet. It’s impressive just how much the Twelfth Doctor has himself matured over his three series. Peter Capaldi has never been anything short of excellent, but the show wobbled over what to do with him for two years. He started off as the grumpy Malcolm Tucker in space, riddled with insecurities about his identity, then became some sort of rock star, and this series has settled as a very balanced yet distinct take on the Doctor. And while I really wish we could have had more of the Twelfth Doctor as he has been in Series 10, it is interesting to note that arc of development over his lifetime, however unplanned it may have been; the brilliant, desperate “I do it because it’s kind” speech in this episode is a matured take on the Series 8 finale’s “I’m an idiot” speech – the Doctor again expressing his identity to his oldest friend, but this time sure of it. And consequently, Missy’s “thanks for trying” is the saddest moment of the Capaldi era.

In fact, with a finale this good, it feels a shame that he doesn’t regenerate at the end of it. Because if this were Capaldi’s last episode, it would be a perfect ending for him. So let’s hope the Christmas special doesn’t drop the ball.

  1. The Doctor Falls
  2. Oxygen
  3. Thin Ice
  4. Extremis
  5. The Pilot
  6. World Enough and Time
  7. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  8. Empress of Mars
  9. Knock Knock
  10. The Eaters of Light
  11. Smile
  12. The Lie of the Land