January 17, 2017

Spotlight (2015)

In 2001 the Boston Globe gains a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Shreiber), who directs the paper's dedicated "Spotlight" team to investigate claims that the city's Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law knew that one of the city's priests was sexually abusing children, but relocated the priest rather than remove him from the Church or report him to the police. As the team - led by Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton) - investigates, they uncover a larger story than they could ever have imagined.

Spotlight is based on a true story: the above-mentioned investigation into the Catholic Church's unofficial policy of relocating and hiding abusive priests to avoid scandal. The real-life story won its writers a 2003 Pulitzer Prize, and had enormous repercussions for the Church worldwide. Tom McCarthy's 2015 film adaptation is a phenomenal piece of work that was appropriately rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is an intelligent, provocative and powerful work of filmmaking.

The Pull List: 11 January 2017, Part 3

It is often difficult to track down English-language editions of French comic books. Cinebooks do an exceptional job, but they cannot adapt everything. It is interesting to see Titan Comics dabble in this area as well with Khaal: Chronicle of a Galactic Emperor, a 2011 bande dessinée series reformatted to an American comic book length and size and released last week to comic shops.

Khaal is set on a massive penal colony starship that, due to its isolated location and locked-down nature, evaded the destruction of a huge galactic war. Inside it is ruled by Khaal, a powerful human with psychic links to alien servants, who defeats any challengers to his rule in the arena. Meanwhile a small group of alien enemies conspire to overthrow him.

This is a very traditional French science fantasy epic, packed with sex and muscles. Valentin Secher's artwork is gorgeous in that typical Metal Hurlant style. For the most part Louis' script matches the tone, although scenes of Khaal and his harem of sex slaves feel woefully out of date and a little tedious to read. Overall I'd prefer seeing this series presented in 48-page perfect-bound or hardcover editions like French comics usually are: what we have here not only splits the narrative in two but shrinks the artwork down awkwardly to American dimensions. For anybody craving some old-fashioned sexy French comics, however, it is definitely promising stuff. (3/5)

Khaal: Chronicle of a Galactic Emperor #1. Titan Comics. Written by Louis. Art by Valentin Secher. Colours by Delphine Rieu.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Grave Lilies, Motor Crush, Ms Marvel and Poe Dameron.

January 16, 2017

Yowamushi Pedal: "Naruko Shoukichi"

It is 28 October 2013, and time for another episode of Yowamushi Pedal.

While visiting the anime fan's paradise Akihabara, Onoda meets Naruko Shoukichi, a loud and aggressive cyclist from Japan's Kansai region. When a passing motorist flicks a lit cigarette onto Onada's bicycle, Naruko is incensed and insists they chase down the car on their bikes to flick the cigarette butt back. The chase further educates Onoda on the science and strategy of high-speed cycling.

There are two main elements to this fourth episode of Yowamushi Pedal. The first is an explanation for high-speed cycling techniques, including the use of gears and slipstreaming in high winds. The second is the introduction of the series' fourth key character: the noisy, brash and ridiculously self-centred Naruko Shoukichi.

Doctor Who: "World's End"

It is 21 November 1964, two days shy of Doctor Who's first anniversary, and it is time for "World's End".

A man stands on the edge of the Thames in London. A bridge is behind him; it has clearly seen better days. Weeds have grown over rubble and wreckage. Behind the man is a large sign: "It is forbidden to dump bodies in the river". The man wears a strange mechanical apparatus around his head and neck. In a sudden, frenzied moment the man rips the apparatus away from around his neck, and then stiffly but calmly walks into the river and drowns himself. Once he is dead, the scene returns to a state of silent, desolate calm.

You really do have to pause for a moment to consider what has just occurred. All this in the first minute of an episode of Doctor Who. This is a television series for children, isn't it? Rubber-suit monsters abound, or historical figures dressed in wonderful period costumes, or William Hartnell as the Doctor coming up with a clever scheme to escape his latest adventure and return to his TARDIS. Instead there is death, and suicide, and the ruins of London. It is easily the most startling and eerily effective opening to a Doctor Who serial yet.

January 15, 2017

Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool is a film that several Hollywood studios have been attempting to make for about a decade and a half, and it has taken until 2016 for it to finally gets its chance to impress. For most of that time actor Ryan Reynolds has been attached to star as well, so before any kind of actual review begins I feel it's worth pausing to both applaud 20th Century Fox for finally giving the project a chance and to congratulate Reynolds for his stamina and persistence, if nothing else.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a terminally ill mercenary given a second chance at life through an experimental process to activate mutant genes in his body. Ruthlessly betrayed, he sets out on a quest for revenge against the villain who transformed him into a hideously scarred psychopath with Wolverine-like healing powers.

To be honest there is not much in the way of story to Deadpool. It essentially has a couple of extended action scenes that frame extended flashbacks. It is basically a loose skeleton upon which the film can hang a lot of rude gags, extreme violence, knowing pop culture references and comic book in-jokes. That does not just work as a description of Deadpool the film; it can also work as a description of the comic book franchise upon which it is based.

The Pull List: 11 January 2017, Part 2

The first five-issue story arc of All-Star Batman had been entertained, but also questioning the book's general purpose. Written by Scott Snyder, it simply felt like another five issues of his lengthy Batman run. Thankfully with this sixth issue we get something genuinely different and, to be honest, rather artful.

In this issue Batman tracks down Mr Freeze to prevent his latest insane plan to punish the world for his wife's near-death: releasing a long-frozen virus from beneath the Earth's perma-frost. The big difference in this case is that the story is related not through dialogue but through prose. It gives the entire issue a strange, artful feel and tone. The turn of phrase is just beautiful to read, with a near poetic rhythm to it. That is all accompanied by excellent art by Jock, the artist with whom Snyder did a tremendously good run on Detective Comics ("The Black Mirror") shortly before the New 52 started.

In a short back-up strip, Duke Thomas continues his training under Batman in a great little storyline illustrated by Francesco Francavilla. I adore Francavilla's artwork, so it's great to see him contributing a few pages to this series.

I'm not sure where this new lead arc "Ends of the Earth" is going, or if the prose style is going to continue, but even taken as a done-in-one single issue this is pretty remarkable stuff. (5/5)

All-Star Batman #6. DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Jock. Colours by Matt Hollingsworth. Backup art by Francesco Francavilla.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, Justice League of America: Vixen, and Justice League vs Suicide Squad.

January 14, 2017

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's The Island of Dr Moreau (2014)

In the mid-1990s cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devils) went to Hollywood with a dream of making a stylish film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr Moreau. That dream was pretty much shattered immediately, and the resulting film - ultimately directed by Hollywood career helmer John Frankenheimer - went down as one of the most unpopular and critically derided films of 1996.

Lost Soul, a 2014 documentary by David Gregory, recounts the troubled development and production of The Island of Dr Moreau, interviewing key members of the film's cast and crew and putting together the most comprehensive account available on precisely what happened to the film and what occurred to make such a promising project crash and burn in such a spectacular fashion. It is not the best documentary of its kind - that remains Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's spectacular Lost in La Mancha - but it is a fascinating and regularly entertaining account of one of modern Hollywood's most legendarily disastrous movie shoots.

Jessica Jones: "AKA 99 Friends"

While continuing her hunt for Killgrave (David Tennant, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) accepts a case from a jewelry designer who suspects her husband is having an affair. Meanwhile police officer Will Simpson (Wil Traval) returns to Trish's apartment to apologise for his actions while controlled by Killgrave. At the law firm, Hogarth (Carrie Ann Moss) and Jessica begin putting together a support group for Killgrave's victims.

While failing to match the quality of the series' first two episodes, "AKA 99 Friends" at least manages to improve on the third. Many of the problems that disrupted that episode for me are still there, but for whatever reason they are being managed a little better. The overall story arc progresses to a satisfying extent while time is taken out for an essentially self-contained storyline at the same time.