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Non-Review Review: Trolls World Tour

If nothing else, Trolls World Tour demonstrates how far animated American films have come in the past few decades.

Modern family audiences have come to expect – and not unreasonably – a certain amount of polish and sophistication in terms of the stories being told. It’s common to credit Pixar with this evolution of expectation, given the narrative and thematic sophistication of films like Toy Story or Finding Nemo. However, the truth is that this was a movement across the medium, with Dreamworks also making significant contributions with films like Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and even Kung-Fu Panda.

Keep Trollin’, Trollin’, Trollin’, ya!

Children have always been more sophisticated media consumers than people credit them, and it’s notable that younger children increasingly process information and storytelling in more concentrated bursts; platforms like Vine and Tik Tok spoke more to younger audiences than older ones, often hypercompressing narratives with an impressive efficiency. As an audience, kids are both smart and shrewd, and often capable of handling whatever film or television can throw at them. It seems like only recent have film and television begun to catch up to them.

This is part of what makes Trolls World Tour so disheartening, particularly in the context of this revolution in family films. Trolls World Tour believes that all it needs to do to distract children is to confront them with bold colours and familiar music. Maybe that’s correct, and it seems likely that Trolls World Tour will be suitably soothing to younger viewers. However, there’s something slightly cynical and patronising in the movie’s commitment to the philosophy of “just enough.”

Ballooning problems.

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New Escapist Column! On “The Good Place”, “Brooklyn 99” and “Parks and Rec” as the True Successors to “Star Trek: The Next Generation”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With self-isolation, I’ve been taking the opportunity to binge some light, feel-good television including Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99, and I’ve come to the shocking realisation that these network sitcoms are probably the closest thing in the modern television landscape to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Of course, there are a variety of reasons for this. Most obviously, it seems like the only viable space for that sort of utopian humanism in the modern world is within the narrative trappings of the familiar sitcom, a space where audiences are inherently more accepting of a fundamentally functional world. More than that, there’s a sense in which The Next Generation is perhaps closer to an idealised workplace show than its science-fiction trappings would attest; at its core, The Next Generation is about a band of hopeful and hyper-competent people working together for the common good. That’s admittedly a much harder sell these days than it was a quarter of a century ago, but shows like Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 offer a very similar vibe.

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

 

176. Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs) – World Tour 2020 (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Alan Mak and Andrew Lou’s Mou Gaan Dou.

Trouble is brewing in Hong Kong. Crime boss Hon Sam has managed to evade the clutches of Superintendent Wong Chi-shing once too often. There can only be one explanation: Sam has a mole buried within the police department. However, as the police close in around him, Sam becomes convinced that Wong has is own embedded operative. What follows is a tense game of cat-and-mouse as the lines between cop and criminal – and self and other – blur

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “The Edge of Tomorrow” as the Perfect Video Game Movie…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, I figured it was the perfect chance to revisit the best video game movie ever: The Edge of Tomorrow.

Look, I freely concede that there are maybe some slight issues with that argument, given that The Edge of Tomorrow isn’t actually or literally based on an established video game franchise. However, there’s something very compelling in the way that The Edge of Tomorrow embraces the aesthetics and sensibilities of video games in order to tell its story, offering a much more faithful replication of the experience of playing a video game than films like Street Fighter or Super Mario Brothers.

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

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 5, Episode 20 (“The End”)

It’s season finale time on The X-Cast, so it was a privilege to be invited back on to talk about the fifth season finale The End. And it was a delight to join Tony Black for that discussion.

The end of the fifth season was the end of an era for The X-Files. The series would light up the multiplex over the summer with The X-Files: Fight the Future, and would return to the airwaves later that year as a changed show, with the production team having moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles. It was a transition that fundamentally altered the core dynamics of the show, and remains highly contested to this day. The End would be the last episode of The X-Files to be produced in Vancouver until My Struggle I, and a large part of the episode is about bidding a fond farewell to the show’s extended family in that area.

Appropriately enough, it seems like this episode marks a similar turning point for The X-Cast. I was caught completely off-guard by it, so I’ll let you listen and year for yourself. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Non-Review Review: Black Christmas (2019)

Black Christmas is an interesting misfire.

There’s something inherently clever about using the familiar template of a slasher movie to engage with the idea of toxic masculinity and the horrors of campus culture. Sophia Takal and April Wolfe certainly have a lot to say, and producer Jason Blum deserves a great deal of credit for positioning a film like this as part of the larger “social thriller” milieu that includes films like The Invisible Man or Get Out or Us. There’s a lot bubbling through Black Christmas, and it’s great to see a slasher film dabbling in these ideas.

Take a bow.

The biggest problem with Black Christmas is that it simply doesn’t work as a horror film. In terms of basic narrative mechanics and pacing, Black Christmas is a mess. The film suffers from many of the same structural problems that haunt so many disposable horror movies; the characters are thinly sketched, the film’s slow build-up feels a little too slow and its climactic confrontations feel a little too rushed and its internal logic is close to non-existent. These problems are compounded by the fact that actually positioning this movie as a remake creates an extra level of extraction.

Black Christmas has good ideas, but is somewhat lacking in the execution.

Don’t choke.

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Non-Review Review: Downhill

Earlier this year, Parasite became the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar.

This was a landmark moment for the Academy Awards and for mainstream American cinema in general. It was significant enough in cultural terms to merit a racist dog-whistle from the President of the United States. It also suggested that it was possible for foreign films to make over the “one inch barrier of subtitles.” The film’s box office returns were impressive, and its cultural footprint quite sizable. Parasite seemed to make its own strong argument for the viability of foreign-language films in the English-language market place.

Passing each other on the down-slope of a marriage…

Downhill makes a similar argument, albeit in much less compelling terms. The indie cringe comedy is an adaptation of Ruben Östlund’s breakout foreign language sensation Force Majeure, premised on the idea that there are audience members who might be drawn to the basic premise of the original film, but alienated by the subtitles. Indeed, Östlund himself seems to have acknowledged this, moving on to more English-language-friendly pastures with The Square, a film with a lot of dialogue in English and starring actors like Dominic West and Elizabeth Moss.

Downhill makes its own argument for the necessity of Force Majeure, by demonstrating just how much can get lost in translation.

Cold reception.

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