Monday, 20 October 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Gone Girl

This is a review written from the point of view of someone who hasn't read Gillian Flynn's original novel. Which, as a moviegoer, can only be a good thing, because foreknowledge of the plot would have weakened my enjoyment of the film. However, this review does include spoilers, so don't continue further if you haven't seen it yet and wish to remain in the dark.

It's a powerful film, directed with style and restraint by David Fincher. There's a strong feeling of discomfort throughout, almost every film feeling just a little off, due to direction, performance or dialogue. We feel quite voyeuristic as we see the underbelly of the failing marriage, as it unravels from the first thrills of romance to the depths of a marriage characterised by mutual loathing. Rosamund Pike is exceptional as Amy, convincing both as the beautiful perfect wife and the frankly terrifying sociopathic individual she is revealed to be. Ben Affleck is also very good; he's frequently the target of jibes for his acting ability but he has matured into a very fine actor indeed. His is a very naturalistic performance, excepting those moments when he is deliberately projecting a facade, particularly as his character, Nick, becomes more media savvy and learns to tailor public perception.

The lead couple threaten to overshadow the other actors, the majority of whom are equally excellent in their roles. Everyone is perfectly cast, from the always entertaining Tyler Perry as celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, to Neil Patrick Harris, veering between quiet class and dangerous obsession as Amy's one-time lover. Carrie Coon, primarily a stage actor, is new to me, but her screen career seems assured on the strength of her brilliant performance as Nick's twin sister Margo. Not everyone is an acting great, though. Emily Ratajkowski, from that awful music video, plays Nick's bit of stuff Andie. She mostly has to look good with her top off, which she does, so fair enough. Missi Pyle perhaps goes a little far as the obnoxious scandal show host Ellen Abbott, but she's faultlessly entertaining.

The film is plotted beautifully, although there are some small elements that appear to be oversights; clues that are introduced that should alter the police view aren't picked up. I imagine in the novel they are dealt with, but some trims are inevitable when adapting work to film. For the most part, though, it is immaculately structured. What's most satisfying is that there is no big twist to this story. Revelations come a several points that change the way we understand the plot or view the characters, the most significant being, of course, the truth behind Amy's self-enacted disappearance. In so many stories this would be the grand twist at the end, whereas in Gone Girl it occurs before the halfway point and alters the way we look at the story as a whole.

Gone Girl is a fascinating exploration of relationships, emotional and physical abuse, media sensationalism and demonisation. If there's one element that sits poorly with me, it's the two incidents of Amy falsifying her own rape. While I do not imagine this is intended as a comment on rape survivors at all, there is a worryingly common view that many, if not most, rape accusations are false and conjured up by vindictive women to hurt men. In reality, of course, very few accusations are false, but a manipulative woman like Amy is exactly the sort of character rapist defenders imagine all women to be. It's just something that made me, personally, feel uncomfortable about the film.

Then again, that is rather the point of the film, that uncomfortable truths exist behind supposedly happy and well-adjusted people's relationships. Outlandish in its plotting, perhaps, but nonetheless a fascinating and disturbing exploration of human relationships.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

One Last Plug




My lovely new books arrived today! I am now a professionally published author. I am a little bit pleased about this, as you may have noticed.

Iris Wildthyme of Mars explores the many Marses of the imagination and also features stories by Ian Potter, Simon Bucher-Jones, Selina Lock, Dale Smith, Juliet Kemp, Richard Wright, Rachel Churcher, Mark Clapham, Lance Parkin, Aditya Bidikar, Blair Bidmead and editor Phil Purser-Hallard.

Iris Wildthyme, the Mistress of the Magical Bus, was created by Paul Magrs. Iris Wildthyme of Mars is available now from Obverse Books.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Comics Round-Up: October (2)




Mighty World of Marvel #4, Avengers Universe #4 & #5 (Marvel/Panini)

So, I'm dropping Wolverine and Deadpool for a bit and trying out Avengers Universe, which seems to tie closer to Mighty World. Also, I just really enjoy the heroes line-up on the inside cover on both these titles. It's cosmic hi-jinks aplenty this month, with Uatu the Watcher and Thanos appearing in both volumes, just to make sure we know that significant shit is going down. Mighty Avengers: "No Single Hero" is the best of these cosmic comics, with most of the Avengers out of town on a intergalactic mission, leaving Luke Cage and his Heroes for Hire guarding the city, along with Spider-Man. the Blue Marvel and Monica Rambeau/Spectrum/Photon. There's a massive alien invasion, and then frickin' Shuma-Gorath appears. It's ridiculously over-the-top, and I love it. And who the hell is "Spider Hero?" One nitpick: Spectrum doesn't know the speed of light, despite being made of it. I don't know, maybe she meant kilometres instead of miles.

Uncanny Avengers has the continuing story of "The Apocalypse Twins," which goes for equally over-the-top cosmic-ness, as Holocaust is present at the assassination of a Celestial, an event that not only potentially has terrible consequences for the entire galaxy, but is linked to a foolish mistake by a young Thor. Wish I'd caught the previous issue, actually. There's some high-concept time travel stuff here, with causes in both the past and future. Daniel Acuna's art is just lovely. The Angela storyline continues in Guardians of the Galaxy, and while this is mostly a fighty-punchy issue, there's some good interplay between the characters. I just struggle to take the goddess Angela seriously when she has her tits hanging out in every panel. Avengers Arena continues with "The Survivor," which introduces some new characters for me. Reptil really has the most ridiculous powers I've ever seen - transform, dinosaur arse! However, it focuses on Nico and Chase from the Runaways, one of my favourite series and makes for a fine issue.

Both books have a more down-to-earth strip to balance out the pan-galactic adventures. Universe #4 has an Ant-Man story that is throwaway but provides some laughs, and issue 5 has an enjoyable set-up for Young Avengers with Kid Loki trying to recruit dimension-hopping herione Miss America. Mighty World continues it's Daredevil run concerning Foggy Nelson's cancer. Combining Murdock's extreme discomfort with his sick friend - he can only barely stand the smell - with a hardluck case from his youth, it's the complete opposite of the rest of the book and really very strong stuff.

Amazing Spider-Man #7, Edge of Spider-Verse #5, Ms. Marvel #9 (Marvel)

These guys all go together, in one big crossover-mess. I'm not even coming close to buying all the Spidey related titles that are apparently essential reading this winter. The Spider-Verse checklist list six or seven releases every month right through January, spread over six titles. Sorry, true believers, not with Christmas coming up. But I'm a sucker for all this parallel universe nonsense, and Spider-Man has always had great fun with these, and even though I'm cherry picking I've enjoyed this little crop.

So, Ms. Marvel continues to be the most fun you can have with Marvel each month, and while we're already kind of in-depth to the mythology, its back-to-basics approach of a precocious kid dealing with superpowers is tremendous fun to read. So, Kamala is an Inhuman, which ties into the fact that these superbeings-who-aren't-mutants seem to be set up to take the MCU by storm. Especially as they're part Kree, the alien race that have already entered the Marvel movies. So yeah, seems pretty clear, and if this means we might get a Kamala Khan movie one day, all the better. Kamala also crosses over in Spider-Man this month, which is just the most obviously perfect idea. really, Spider-Man does not work the way he once did. The writers have left themselves in the unenviable position of having to allow him development, because to not do so would be unfeasible and poor storytelling, but resorting to retconning and rewriting history to keep him grounded in his old, "typical Parker luck" ways. Frankly, Ms. Marvel is much more like classic Spider-Man than the man himself now, and this team-up works well because of it.

Spider-Man includes a back-up Edge of Spider-Verse story which covers the ongoing, and deteriorating, crisis across worlds, and introduces properly Spider-UK. This character is, rather brilliantly, both the Spider-Man and Captain Britain of his universe. And of course the Captain Britain Corps are involved; their job is to police the realities of the multiverse. It's mythology heavy, but it's good stuff. The actual Edge title, the last one in the series, is less impressive, mainly because it exists solely to introduce another character's story then cut it off in favour of the overall plot. Still, it's a very different take on Spider-Man, set in a manga world in which the very young Peni Parker is symbiotically bonded to an enhanced spider and fights villains in a mecha-suit. It's an entertainingly skewed take on the Marvel universe, it's just a shame they don't have the space to do anything with it. Still, Spider-Verse as a whole is shaping up nicely, especially now Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham has arrived. But... they killed the Spider-Friends. The BASTARDS.

Batgirl #35, Gotham Academy #1 (DC)

The much-awaited new Batgirl run has kicked off, and it really is as good as it was made out to be. I'm definitely a huge fan of Barbara's new costume, and the artwork here, by Babs Tarr, is just perfect. It completely fits the breathless, contemporary feel of the book. complimenting Stewart and Fletcher's writing perfectly. Particularly excellent are the frozen-screen type shots that explore Barbara's eidetic memory. So, yeah, keep Babs drawing Babs please. This is an achingly cool book, so up-to-the-minute that it hurts me in my old man bones, even as it skirts around trademarked app names. But it's also an important story, dealing with internet privacy and publicity abuse, and skirting into the whole nasty misogynistic nerd culture that's being bared to the world right now. Comics really need to address this stuff if they're going to do anything about it, so this is good stuff.

Gotham Academy is a promising new title, and while it's sold as basically being Hogwarts but in DC-land, it's better than that has a right to be. For a start, Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher are actually good writers. I'm taken by Olive and Maps, and the idea of growing up in Gotham is a fine starting point for a story, especially with Bruce Wayne as your patron hanging over you. Funny with a little bit of creepy, and also boasting wonderful art by Karl Kerschl and Geyser. A very good October for DC, even as I remain utterly uninterested by the "Future's End" crossover.

Guardians 3000 #1 (Marvel)

Dan Abnett comes back to do for the original Guardians of the Galaxy what he did for a bunch of forgotten space characters a few years back that eventually led to a surprise blockbuster movie. It's not bad, not bad at all, but I'm somehow unmoved. Gerardo Sandoval delivers frenetic artwork that helps build the pace, and the central concept is great. A group of aliens fighting a war that seems to be a case of history literally repeating itself, with only a human clairvoyant capable of of sensing the time-loop... that's classic science fiction. But by the end of the issue I was already a bit annoyed by the spacey future slang. It's a bugbear of mine, and it really pulls me out of these things. It also feels much more like 2000 AD than anything Marvel. Not a complaint, just an observation.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 (Titan), Doctor Who Magazine ##479 (Panini)

Titan launch the third of their DW series, the highly anticipated twelfth Doctor run... and it's a crashing let-down. Really, this is a bad comic. Understandably they're not going down the same route as their Ten and Eleven series, but even though they need to stick with the current set-up, there's no call for something so unambitious. Robbie Morrison writes a story that is taking its cues from Hitchhikers, which is fine, but you need wit to do that, and he's in short supply. The dialogue might work with some talented actors saying it onscreen, but on the page it's just drab and unfunny. But that's nothing compared to the artwork. The pencils are by Dave Taylor with colours by someone called Hi-Fi (presumably not Steven Taylor's panda). It's just awful. The sample spread that went out last week looked OK, but that's clearly where all the time and effort went, because the rest is just shoddy. DWM's continuing serial, "The Eye of Torment" is considerably better, in terms of dialogue, artwork, ideas, pacing,,, everything really. Even if it is telling a strangely similar story to Star Trek's "Skin of Evil." But, you know, a good version.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

REVIEW: Ghostbusters: Mass Hysteria

Three years, thirty-six issues, two volumes, twelve Ghostbusters, and it's now over. Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening's Ghosbusters series for IDW has been an astounding success. While plans for a third movie seem to be finally getting somewhere, it sounds like Paul Feig's plan for a complete reboot are going ahead. I see this as no bad thing, as the time has really passed for a third outing for the original team. Taking the, ahem, spirit of the originals and forging ahead with something new is a great idea, especially if an all-female team is in the offing as reported.


Anyone desperate for Ghostbusters 3 bringing back the original team should look to the official video game, which reunited the core cast one last time to provide an excellent third instalment. After that, IDW's comic volumes can be considered Ghostbusters 4 & 5, continuing the story further. In which case, “Mass Hysteria” makes for a perfect final act. This eight issue story is a celebration of thirty years of Ghostbusters, it has been described by author Burnham as “a love letter” to the franchise. And it is to the whole franchise, not only furthering and tying up stories from his own comic series, but also taking elements from throughout the movies, animated series and video games and weaving them into a new story.



For a long time, Dana Barrett and Louis Tully were off-limits to IDW. Rights to use Dana have been particularly difficult for creators to acquire over the years, so while this was a disappointment, it was no surprise. Nonetheless, the lack of two of the core characters from the original films left a gap in the ongoing story. In particular, Dana's involvement is a vital element of the films, to the degree that one has to wonder just why this apparently ordinary woman has been so linked to the two most significant paranormal events in modern history. Finally, though, the situation changed, with Dana and Louis both now available to be included in this series. No wonder this feels so very right – the whole gang's together again, and finally we have a follow-up to those initial events with Gozer. For while the coming of Gozer was stopped, the evil god is still out there, and so, it is revealed, is his sister.



Tiamat, Babylonian goddess of chaos, is intrigued by both the Ghostbusters' recent escape from limbo (in the “New Ghostbusters: Stripped” storyline) and they're defeat of her brother.And so she weaves into their lives through Dana and Louis, making them her links to the earthly plain just as Gozer did. It's all a game, though, and as the embodiment of chaos, Tiamat doesn't obey the same rules as Gozer. She doesn't need a human link to the world, she doesn't obey simple physics, her very presence in our dimension causes gravity to malfunction and blood to rain from the sky. She is a truly unstoppable force, and it's only by her own caprice that she allows any kind of victory. Tiamat did, in fact, appear in The Real Ghostbusters series, but Burnham and Schoening have never been afraid to take an idea from the cartoon and do something bigger with it. Tiamat is a suitably powerful and threatening villain for the Ghostbusters' biggest case yet.


What's so effective about this series is that it never forgets its focus on the lives of the characters. All the main players get their moment in the spotlight, but it is, gratifyingly, Winston who is the real star of this story. Unfairly sidelined in the movies, the fourth Ghostbusters is the heart and soul of this story, finally marrying his girlfriend Tiyah and being the one who finally stands up to Tiamat in a way she cannot ignore. The final tragedy he suffers at her hands... damn, it's just too sad. The final issue is essentially an epilogue, but god, does it deliver a gutpunch of a final twist.



“Mass Hysteria” is an incredible end to an excellent series, and while I'm sad to see it over, it's been a fine three years of bustin'. If I am forced to make a criticism, it's that I miss Tristan Jones's extras from earlier issues, but perhaps we'll see something new for the trades. With a whole franchise of Ghostbusters, there's plenty of directions the series can go if and when it returns. Indeed, Paul Feig's reported all-female reboot of the franchise could learn a lot from this series. For now, though, there's just the addendum of the most eighties crossover of them all to keep us going. Bring on Ghostbusters meets TMNT.


Cover images pinched from Dapper Dan's DeviantArt gallery. Go check it out, he's amazing at Hallowe'en.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

REVIEW: Gotham, episode one

Firstly, I realise that you're on episode six or something in the States. I'm in England, I had to wait for the pilot to air on Channel 5 last night. So for many of you, this is already out of date and thus probably quite irrelevant. Also, although I've been mostly steering clear of spoilers, there's a general consensus that I've picked up on that this series has started to improve as it's gone on. So I bear this in mind.

So... yeah. This has potential. As pilots go, this isn't bad, but it isn't terribly inspiring either. Nonetheless, I'm one of the few who is genuinely sold on the central idea of the series. There are dozens of superhero properties out there right now, and decades worth of screen takes on Batman. If they're going to do another one, it has to do something that's a bit different to what we've seen before. And while there's been a glut of prequels and remakes in recent years, sometimes they are a good idea. Sometimes there is a story to tell. I never would have said anyone was clamouring to hear the story of how Jim Gordon started out in Gotham City, but once it was suggested... well, I was intrigued. 

This first episode has its flaws. God, does it have flaws. The dialogue is frequently so cliched as to be risible. The plot doesn't so much resolve as just stop when Falcone walks in, and while I understand that it's setting things up for the long game, as an episode in itself it feels neither self-contained nor the first part of a serial. I love the idea of setting up various villainous characters in their early guises, but this really hammers it in. It's just about acceptable when the crooks sneer at Oswald and call him Penguin, and he screeches that he doesn't like to be called that. But the Ed Nygma as a riddling coroner, that just doesn't work. Ivy Pepper, presented as being the future Poison Ivy (did not enough people recognise the name Pamela Isley?), is too young to really stand a chance of coming into her villainy, so I'm guessing she's just a cute Easter egg. The pickpocketing Selina Kyle might work though, and I like the idea that she was witness to the Waynes' shooting. But really, there is such a thing as too much at once. If that comedian does turn out to be the Joker (which I doubt he will, but just in case) well, that's really going to be too much thrown into this first episode.



Still, there's a lot to like. There's a retro, prohibitionist vibe going alongside the mobile phones and contemporary trappings, and while in any other setting this would be sloppy, it works here. Gotham inhabits its own tilted time zone, not quite modern and not quite antiquated, which is exactly how it should be. I like Ben McKenzie. He hasn't convinced me as Jim Gordon yet, and he's going to have a hard time selling it to everyone who's seen Gary Oldman make his turn at the part definitive. Still, he has a gallant charm and I can see him working once he's more used to the role. Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, is a good addition to the set-up, and shows that with a few original characters to interact with the DC archetypes, there's interesting ground to cover. The gender and race balance is refreshingly mixed. Robin Lord Taylor is excellent as Oswald, all twitchy nerviness barely covering his restrained brutality. He's a little man who wants to be a bruiser, and he's by far the best thing about this.

Some of the casting lets it down though. Sean Pertwee is badly miscast as Alfred, cockneying it up way too much. He also looks and sounds so much like his dad these days that it just looks to me like the Doctor shouting at Bruce Wayne, but that's by the by. I'm very pleased to see Harvey Bullock finally get some decent live-action screen time, but I'm not convinced by Donal Logue in the role. He's not big enough, hard enough or imposing enough for Bullock. He should be a bull of a man; it's in the name. Admittedly I'm influenced by the animated version of the character, but that's because it worked. I can't buy Bullock in this.

Still, I want this to work, and I think it can. It needs to be able to tell it's own stories, without relying on nostalgia for the established characters. I'm eager to see how the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon develops, how Gordon stands a chance in a city where pretty much everyone seems to be on the side of the mob, and  what the future holds for Mssr. Cobblepot. I'm convinced this series can succeed, but it needs work.