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New Escapist Video! On “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the Arbitrary Lines Between High and Low Culture…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, with the renewed and ongoing debate between “high” and “low” culture, between “art” and “content”, it seemed like a good time to take a look at one of the more fascinating films to straddle that line. Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth entry in a long-running franchise, a film essentially built around a long car chase and explosions. However it’s also as pure a piece of cinema that has ever been made. It demonstrates the fungibility of those perceived boundaries.

New Escapist Column! On the Fifth Anniversary of “10 Cloverfield Lane”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Because it’s the fifth anniversary of 10 Cloverfield Lane, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at the paranoid and claustrophobic thriller. In particular, 10 Cloverfield Lane arrived on the cusp of a wave of similar movies about characters trapped and suffocated in claustrophobic horror: films as diverse as Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room and even Todd Haynes’ Carol.

Looking at these wave of films in hindsight, they suggest something simmering beneath the surface of American consciousness, a nightmare about characters who find themselves in hostile and oppressive environments and forced to survive as best they can. 10 Cloverfield Lane was perhaps the culmination of this cinematic trend, and galvanises many of those themes into a potent allegory for abuse and survival, ending with the revelation that not all of this monstrosity is trapped behind locked doors.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian is an odd film in a number of ways.

In some ways, The Mauritanian feels like it has arrived late to the party. Obviously, the War on Terror is still a major defining event of the twenty-first century. Guantánamo Bay is still open and housing forty inmates. It’s possible to trace the xenophobia that defines so much of contemporary American politics back to the War on Terror, most obviously by looking at the countries affected by President Donald Trump’s infamous “travel ban.” So the War on Terror is very much an ongoing concern that merits discussion and exploration.

Maur, Maur, Maur…

However, it is also a period of American history that has been very thoroughly explored in film and television, particularly in the context of prestige awards-season releases. The Hurt Locker won Best Picture a decade ago. Zero Dark Thirty was a major awards contender a few years after that. The War on Terror has been dissected through the lens of forensic introspection in movies like The Report and through broad satire in movies like Vice. As such, any movie hoping to explore the War on Terror exists in the shadow of larger culture.

This is perhaps the biggest issue with The Mauritanian. Director Kevin Macdonald’s earnest exploration of the incarceration and torture of Mohamedou Ould Salahi feels like a movie that should have been released during the early wave of this cinematic excavation. Even allowing for the fact that Salahi was only released five years ago, those five years feel like a very long time. The result of all this is that The Mauritanian feels like a movie displaced in time, feeling like a retread of the earliest films grappling with the topic, like Lions for Lambs.

Interrogating the War on Terror.

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224. Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata) – This Just In (#192)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall and Ronan Doyle, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Ingmar Bergman’s Höstsonaten.

Eva invites her mother Charlotte to visit. It has been seven years since the mother and daughter last spoke. What initially seems like a welcome reunion quickly boils over as simmering resentments rise to the surface and the pair are forced to reassess their relationship to one another – and themselves.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 192nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “WandaVision” Lags Behind “Legion” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”….

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Today marked the release of the WandaVision finale, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the season as a whole, and where it stands in terms of the modern television landscape.

One of the most striking aspects of the first half of WandaVision‘s first season was the skill and fidelity that the show demonstrated in recreating classic television sitcoms. The show’s basic conceit found the characters journeying through television’s history and hurdling towards the present. Unfortunately, WandaVision stumbled when it hit the present, particularly when compared to two relatively recent shows tackling similar themes and working in similar genres blending fantasy and reality as meditations on trauma and mental health problems: Legion and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! On “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and Passing the Torch to the Next Generation…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, we took a look at the strange wonder that was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and the fact that it would be impossible to imagine a franchise drawing the shutters down in the same way these days. The Undiscovered Country is not only an explicit rejection of nostalgia, it is also an interrogation of the past, refusing to pull any punches in its look at the original Star Trek. It’s an approach that could never happen today, and popular culture is all the weaker for that.

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “Tom and Jerry Could Do With Some Fine-Toonin'”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard and Maggie Iken for the eighth episode of the year. We talk about the release of the trailer for Army of the Dead and the release of Tom and Jerry on HBO Max.

You can listen to back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 3, Episode 16 (“Saturn Dreaming of Mercury”)

Last year, I was thrilled to spend a lot of time on The Time is Now discussing the second season of Millennium. Since the podcast has moved on to the third season, I have taken something of a step back as a guest. That said, I was flattered to get an invitation to discuss Saturn Dreaming of Mercury with host Kurt North.

To describe Saturn Dreaming of Mercury as a “strange” episode is something of an understatement. It’s an ambitious and thematically rich meditation on the idea of parenthood, and the responsibilities and fears that come with that, but framed through a lens close to abstract surrealism. It’s one of the most distinct and unusual episodes in the larger Ten Thirteen canon, even if I am not entirely sure that I can explain what exactly happens in it.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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Non-Review Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon offers a reminder of just how quietly and efficiently Disney have managed their animated properties.

For a while at the turn of the millennium, the company seemed to struggle to defines its place among younger and hungrier animation studios like Pixar or Dreamworks. The company responded with a push away from the princess-centric movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan that had anchored their renaissance-era output, pivoting sharply: first to animated movies aimed at boys like Atlantis and Treasure Planet, and then to computer-animated adventures like Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt.

Raya hope?

However, towards the end of the decade, the company arguably found its feet again, with a wave of somewhat traditionalist stories. The Princess and the Frog is often treated as the end of an era of hand-drawn animation, but it also marked a rejuvenation of the classic “princess” movie. It was followed by Tangled, Frozen, Moana and Frozen II, all of which were computer-animated takes on a familiar Disney archetype.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a reminder of just how sturdy that old “princess” movie template is, demonstrating the hard work that the company has put in to keep its oldest archetype both resonant and recognisable.

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New Escapist Column! On “Mad Max: Fury Road”, and the Elastic Boundaries Between “High” and “Low” Culture…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. There’s been a lot of debate recently about the boundaries between “art” and “content”, which can frequently sound like a debate about “high” and “low” culture, so I thought it was worth taking a look at how porous those boundaries can be.

On paper, Mad Max: Fury Road should be a standard franchise film. It’s the fourth film in the Mad Max franchise, serving as a vague sequel or even reboot to one of Australia’s most successful movie franchises. It cost a lot of money. It features a lot of special effects. It has very little dialogue. However, in spire of that, it is arguably as pure an expression of cinema as an artform as has every existed, and demonstrates how elastic and how illusory arguments about “high” and “low” culture truly are.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.