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New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “The Only Thing Horrifying About New Mutants is How Bad It Is”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard and Stacy Grouden for the thirteenth episode. We discussed rumours of a new Predator film, and the franchise’s troubled history. We raved about the pulpy thrills of Run. We then discussed Hillbilly Elegy.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Morality Plays that Ground Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and Christmas is fast approaching, so it seemed like as good a time as any to talk about the heartwarming morality of director Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino arrived in the early nineties as something of a provocateur, and caused no shortage of outrage among older and more traditional audiences. One of the more frequent criticisms thrown at Tarantino suggested that the director was nihilistic, that he presented worlds without meaning or sense beyond violence and chaos. While this might superficially appear to be true in that many of Tarantino’s films feature both violence and chaos, it fundamentally misunderstands the director.

On the contrary, Tarantino is arguably one of America’s most morally conscious filmmakers. His films present characters with worlds in which arbitrary forces sweep through their lives, reflecting the reality of living in a world outside of an individual’s control. However, many of Tarantino’s protagonists react to that chaos by fashioning their own order out of it – discerning their own meaning, constructing their own reasons. Although obscured by Tarantino’s preference for non-linear structure, his stories are often miniature morality plays.

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

Non-Review Review: Mosul

Mosul is a frustratingly generic war movie, particularly given its potential as an exploration of Iraq in the wake of the American withdrawal.

Mosul is produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, best known as the directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The pair have leveraged the success of their work with Marvel to produce the work of other filmmakers, including past collaborators. 21 Bridges was a star vehicle for Black Panther leading actor Chadwick Boseman. Extraction starred Thor actor Chris Hemsworth and was directed by stuntman Sam Hargrave who had been Chris Evans’ stunt double on Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Iraqqing up an impressive reputation.

Mosul marks the directorial debut of veteran writer Mathew Michael Carnahan, who collaborated with Adam Mervis on the screenplay for 21 Bridges. Indeed, the Middle Eastern War on Terror framing of Mosul feels like an organic extension of Carnahan’s interests as a writer; his first two screenplay credits were for The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs, both released in 2007. As such, tasking Carnahan with making a boots-on-the-ground war film about the chaos in Iraq following the end of American involvement seems like a perfectly logical choice.

To his credit Carnahan understands the language and the logic of war movies. With its emphasis on handheld footage, Mosul occasionally feels like a spiritual companion to something like Blackhawk Down. With its recurring fascination with the absurdity and insanity of the horror of these sorts of conflicts, Mosul plays an extension of the core themes of Apocalypse Now. Indeed, Carnahan cycles through the conventional tropes and clichés of war movies with thrilling abandon, ensuring a propulsive sense of momentum and movement through the film.

“Mosul, Mo’ Problems.”

At the same time, Mosul feels a little too generic and too conventional. There are only a handful of sequences in the movie that feel like they relate specifically to this context, to the particulars of the war being waged in Iraq against Daesh. Too often, the film feels like it could be any war in any place at any time. It doesn’t help that Mosul positions itself more as an action movie and thriller than as a drama or study. Indeed, there are moments when Mosul feels just a little exploitative, as if attempting to extract pulpy thrills from a crisis that is still unfolding.

That said, Mosul hits most of its marks with enough skill and efficiency that none of these problems ever reach critical mass. Mosul bounces quickly from each set-up to the next, never allowing its audience or its characters the space to dwell on the familiarity of its set-up and execution. Mosul is a tightly constructed war thriller, even if it never fulfills its potential.

Commanding presence.

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Non-Review Review: Another Round

Another Round marks another successful collaboration for director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Another Round is an exploration of alcoholism, filtered through the lens of midlife crisis. Prompted by a conversation over dinner, four teachers decide to embark on a pseudo-scientific study to test the hypothesis that the human body and mind function optimally with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.5%. This experiment naturally has a variety of unintended consequences for the middle aged men as they attempt to navigate the world of new possibilities that they create for themselves.

Drinking it all in…

Another Round works in large part because of the chemistry of its four leads: Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang. It helps that Vinterberg is also careful to avoid tipping Another Round into stern-faced moralising about the dangers of alcohol. Although the movie’s trajectory is quite obvious from the moment that the four men seize on their plans, Another Round is refreshingly honest about the nature of the four men’s relationship to alcohol. The film understands the pull of alcohol to men in that situation.

Still, Another Round suffers slightly from feeling overly familiar. Its plot and character arcs are straightforward, and the film occasionally tips into outright melodrama in its final act. Still, there’s a lot to recommend Another Round, even if the taste isn’t quite as exotic as it might suggest.

Relighting his fire.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 3, Episode 5 (“… Thirteen Years Later”)

Earlier in the 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 … Thirteen Years Later with the fantastic Kurt North.

I am not as big a fan of the third season as I was of the second. This is particularly true of the opening stretch of the third season, which is chaotic and uneven at the best of times. … Thirteen Years Later is in some ways a prime illustration of the problems facing this relaunched version of the show. It’s a comedy episode released for Halloween, essentially offering a very tame Hollywood satire that feels like an awkward attempt to catch up with the Scream movies. Still, it’s a fun and broad discussion.

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

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New Escapist Video! On How “Return of the Jedi” Set Boundaries on What “Star Wars” Could Be…

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.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode. With the new season of The Mandalorian on the air and with the release of The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look back at nostalgia within the Star Wars franchise – in particular, at Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

New Escapist Column! On the Terrible “Terminator” Metaphor at the Heart of “Hillbilly Elegy”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With Hillbilly Elegy arriving on Netflix tomorrow, it seemed like the right moment to take a look at one of award season’s biggest misfires.

There are a lot of problems with Hillbilly Elegy, many of which have been explored by writers with a lot more probing insight and personal experience than I have on the matter. That said, one aspect of the film has stuck with me since I first watched it: Hillbilly Elegy has possibly the worst Terminator metaphor that I have ever seen. It’s impressive how terrible the metaphor is. It relies on both a fundamental misunderstanding of the Terminator franchise, but also on a misunderstanding of what Hillbilly Elegy is trying to say.

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

Non-Review Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Perhaps Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom offers an illustration of how times have changed.

The film exists as part of the same production deal that brought Fences to cinemas just four years ago. Denzel Washington signed a deal with HBO to produce screen adaptations of all ten of August Wilson’s plays, bringing one of America’s core dramatists to as wide an audience as possible with the highest quality production. Even without that specific context, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom feels like a companion piece to Fences; they are both films adapting Wilson, produced by Washington and starring Viola Davis.

A play of note…

However, while Fences was a major theatrical release distributed by Paramount, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has gone direct to Netflix. While the film will have a limited theatrical run where that is possible, it will primarily stream online. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is still a lavish production with a top tier cast working from strong material. However, as with the release of The Boys in the Band on Netflix earlier in this awards season, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom illustrates that even in the four years since Fences, the market for these sorts of productions has migrated to streaming.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the sort of clean and uncluttered performance-driven adult-skewing film that might have enjoyed a wide release in years past, but now it seems impossible to imagine the film anywhere but on a service like Netflix.

Levee-raging his talent.

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New Escapist Video! “The Mandalorian – Chapter 12: The Siege”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’ll be doing weekly reviews of The Mandalorian.

The review of the fourth episode of the second season, The Siege, is available below.

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “The Only Thing Horrifying About New Mutants is How Bad It Is”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard and Maggie Iken for the twelfth episode. Adaptation is a recurring motif that bridges the four sections of the podcast, covering the news about Wonder Woman 1984 heading to streaming, the development of the Uncharted adaptation, plans to adapt The Guilty for Netflix and a discussion of New Mutants.

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