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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Endgame

It says a lot about the state of contemporary pop culture that the biggest movie of the year is essentially a clip episode.

Pop culture has always been vaguely nostalgic, evoking an idealised past and reminding audiences of times when the future seemed brighter. After all, much of the New Hollywood canon is explicitly nostalgic, sixties and seventies films that pay loving homage to the thirties and the forties, often explicitly; The Sting, The Godfather, Paper Moon, Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde. The past has always had a certain allure for cinema, perhaps because that’s what pictures have always been; individual moments captured on film and frozen in time, removed from their original context. Film is simply those frozen images run together to create the illusion of movement and life. Every film is a time machine, some are just more explicit than others.

Assembly line.

However, there is something fascinating about the modern wave of nostalgia, the speed at which pop culture is consuming itself. Recent waves of seventies, eighties and nineties nostalgia are still cresting. Earlier this summer, Captain Marvel channeled some of this nineties nostalgia into blockbuster (and Blockbuster) form. However, it also feels like nostalgia is getting closer and closer to the present, brushing up against the current moment. In some respects, the success of Lady Bird is indicative here. After all, Lady Bird is a film that is explicitly nostalgic about the post-9/11 era, evoked through footage of the Iraq War and the sounds of Justin Timberlake playing at a teen house party.

Avengers: Endgame is a strangely nostalgic beast. It is not strange that the film is nostalgic; after all, this is something of a coda to a decade of superhero films. However, it is strange how that nostalgia brushes up against the present, the climax of the film feeling very much like a loving homage to Avengers: Infinity War, a film that only premiered one year ago.

Stark raving mad…

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #15!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Grace Duffy to discuss the week in film.  As usual, we talk about what we watched this week, including another in-depth discussion of Brie Larson’s directorial debut Unicorn Store, the cynicism of Netflix’s The Silence, the enduring appeal of Road House, the insanity of Jupiter Ascending, and the strange nostalgia of Hotel Artemis. In film news, there is a lot happening. Close to home, the IFI is hosting a season dedicated to memory on screen and has added The Loopline Connection to the online IFI Player. In international news, the latest Star Wars movie has a name and a trailer, Avengers: Endgame spoilers sweep across the internet, and the Cannes film festival announced its line-up.

All of this plus the top ten and the new releases.

The top ten:

  1. Missing Link
  2. Captain Marvel
  3. Peppa Pig: Festival of Fun
  4. Hellboy
  5. Little
  6. Pet Sematary
  7. Wild Rose
  8. Wonder Park
  9. Shazam!
  10. Dumbo

New releases:

An August Tribute: “The Avengers” and Deconstructing Bond…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing The Avengers on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

This is not a defense of The Avengers.

There is no defending The Avengers. The film is legendary and spectacular failure. There is no belated reclamation project under way, no attempt to salvage its reputation twenty-odd years after it landed in a smoking crater. The film’s production history is storied, and disastrous. The film was subject to internal power struggles within Warner Brothers, falling between a changing of the guard and sabotaged at a test screening with a hostile audience. Twenty-five minutes of the film were unceremoniously cut out, and the score was radically rewritten. The result is monstrous.

More than that, there is little to indicate that The Avengers could ever have been a good film, even its pristine and uncut state. The flaws with the movie run deeper than those definable absences. The two leads share no chemistry, despite the fact that the film hinges on their dynamic. The plot is complete nonsense, haunted by the shadow of countless rewrites rather than simply lost in the edit. The film’s surrealism is halfhearted rather than committed, flirting with deranged brilliance but always landing somewhere on the uncomfortable side of mere camp. The Avengers is bad.

And, yet, in spite of all that, something interesting beats at the heart of The Avengers. Part of this is a result of the movie’s intrinsic late-nineties-ness, the way that it captures the mood of that moment. It is very much a post-Cold War story, its stakes framed in environmental terms that reflect the anxieties of the cultural moment. (Remember when mankind healed the hole in the ozone layer?) Similarly, the movie’s flirtation with the surreal and the notion of collapsing reality echoes (better) films like The Truman Show or The Matrix or Dark City or eXistenz or Fight Club.

However, the most interesting aspect of the film remains its central performance from Sean Connery. At the time, Connery had just successfully reinvented himself as a box office draw in the late nineties, building off the success of his collaboration with Michael Bay and Nicolas Cage in The Rock. The late nineties were were busy time for Connery, with projects including Entrapment, Playing by Heart and Finding Forrester. The actor was undergoing what might be characterised today as a “Conneraissance.”

In the middle of that “Conneraissance”, there is something rather strange about The Avengers, in large part because it’s a performance that exists in dialogue with his most iconic role. Of course, there’s no getting around Connery’s time as James Bond. The Rock rather heavily implies that Connery’s character was a version of James Bond arrested around the time of Diamonds are Forever. However, The Avengers goes one step further. The Avengers doesn’t just cast Sean Connery as a Bond villain. The Avengers casts Sean Connery as James Bond as a Bond villain.

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127. Akira – Anime April 2019 (#249)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, 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. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze no tani no Naushika and Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira.

This week, the first part of the double bill, Akira, set in the then-distant future of 2019.

In the streets of Neo-Tokyo, an entire generation is left to fend for itself. Against a backdrop of reckless violence and urban chaos, as the city seems ready to burn to the ground around them, teenagers Tetsuo and Kaneda have forged a friendship rooted in desperation and necessity. However, everything changes when Tetsuo has a fleeting encounter with a strange child, and opens doors to possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 216th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 4, Episode 1 (“Herrenvolk”)

I’m back on The X-Cast this week, covering Herrenvolk with the one and only Tony Black, kicking off the podcast’s fourth season coverage.

Herrenvolk is an interesting episode, arriving at a pivotal time in the history of The X-Files. Chris Carter’s attention was divided over the fourth season, split between the first season of Millennium and the pre-production on what would become The X-Files: Fight the Future. As a result, the fourth season is a particularly disjointed and unfocused point in the show’s run, but one that contains no shortage of treasures.

It was, always, a delight to talk over the episode with Tony. I’m always honoured to be asked back. We also talk a little bit about the fourth season of the series as a whole, about its reputation and legacy and about where it would rank personally. I hope you enjoy it.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Spoiling for a Fight: Thoughts on Contemporary Spoiler Culture…

It’s happening again.

Last year, to mark the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos demanded your silence. This year, to mark the release of Avengers: Endgame, audiences are being told not to spoil the endgame. These campaigns are indicative of how a lot of modern pop cultural discourse works; for example, discussions around Game of Thrones or Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. There’s a strong push in modern pop culture towards the concealing plot details from these big monumental works, these pop cultural events. There is a strong push to preserve surprise and to avoid direct discussion of the material in any real detail, for fear that such discussions might possibly reach the eyes of somebody who would rather remain uninformed of any details about these phenomena.

To be fair, it is possible to sympathise with such a position. People want to enjoy media on their own terms. People do not want to have their responses to media shaped by outside factors like the opinions of others or the details of the plot. While one can readily cite studies suggesting that spoilers can actively improve enjoyment of a film, it is also entirely possible to find studies that argue the exact opposite. More than that, it is increasingly difficult for a person to avoid coming into contact with media talking about these pop cultural phenomenon; social media is built on the concept of immediacy and relevance, and so anybody connected in anyway to the internet is bound to have some contact with Star Wars, Game of Thrones or Endgame.

At the same time, there is something slightly suffocating in all of this. There has always been mass culture. There have always been people writing about mass culture. There has always been media that could be spoiled. There have always been press screenings. There was a seven month gap between the premiere of The Usual Suspects at Sundance and its release to the American public, and its twist remained a surprise to the general public. Generally speaking “just use your common sense” has always been good advice when talking about a particular film or television show. As such, the modern panic over “spoilers” seems unnecessary and counterproductive.

Note: This article contains a variety of spoilers, most heavily for Avengers: Infinity War and Captain Marvel. Put proceed at your peril.

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Not So Super, Hero: What Modern Superhero Blockbusters Could Learn From “Akira”…

This Saturday, as part of the annual “Anime April”, I’ll be discussing Akira on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first. You can listen to last week’s episode on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind here. You can listen to our episode on Akira here.

Akira is a startlingly influential film.

Even if a person hasn’t seen Katsuhiro Otomo’s animated masterpiece, they have undoubtedly felt its influence rippling through popular culture in various media. In music, Kanye West cites it as his “biggest creative inspiration”, to the point that his video for Stronger is almost a shot-for-shot remake. Rian Johnson has cited Akira as a major influence on his own Looper. Josh Trank and Max Landis’ Chronicle has a number of obvious similarities to Akira. Even outside of these direct references, individual elements of the film continue to have an outsized influence on American popular culture. The iconic red bike pops up in Ready Player One. Even individual shots have been mimicked and imitated, such as the fantastic “Akira bike slide” from early in the film.

Inevitably, there has been much talk of a potential Americanised remake of Akira. After all, there have been other big-budget live action adaptations of cult Japanese projects like Ghost in the Shell or Alita: Battle Angel, and so it is surprising it has taken so long. There were rumours of an adaptation by Albert Hughes that might star Morgan Freeman. (James Franco might have headlined.) More recently, Jordan Peele declined the invitation to direct the adaptation, despite his affection for the source material. The most recent rumours suggested that Leonardo DiCaprio might be producing a version directed by Taika Waititi, which would shift the action from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-Manhattan. There were other significant changes made to the source story.

There are a variety of reasons why Akira has been so difficult to adapt. Most optimistically, it may simply be a case that so much of what made the original film iconic has already been filtered through to audiences in the movies indebted to it, like Looper or Chronicle; this is the challenge adapting John Carter of Mars following the success of films like Star Wars or Flash Gordon. More pragmatically, Akira is a story rooted in a very specific cultural context. It is not an American story, it is a story anchored very specifically in eighties Japan. Of course, this is not necessarily a problem; samurai films like Shichinin no Samurai or Yojimbo could be reworked for American audiences as cowboy films, their cultural context shifted in the journey across the Pacific. Still, it is a challenge.

However, this challenge of cultural translation suggests one of the fundamental issues with adapting Akira for American audiences. It is hard to define Akira in terms of a single genre; it is a coming of age science-fiction deconstruction of masculinity infused with a psychedelic sensibility. However, in terms of visual style and narrative flow, the movie’s closest relatives in contemporary American cinema are superhero films. Superheroes are, after all, the dominant American cinematic mode of the twenty-first-century to date. Indeed, a modern audience approaching Akira might be tempted to read it in the context of that genre. If Chronicle is to be considered “the American Akira”, it is notable that it uses the language of the superhero genre to translate the story.

However, there is something fundamentally different about the way in which Akira approaches the idea of the superhero figure as compared to mainstream superhero films, and this difference might demonstrate why an adaptation of Akira for American cinema might pose such a challenge.

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