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New Escapist Column! On the Quiet Revolution of Disney’s Modern Princess Movies…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Encanto this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about the animated “princess” movies being produced by Disney.

Disney has always been associated with these movies, dating back to the breakout success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. However, the company has also long had a complicated relationship to them, and in particular the way in which they are perceived as movies aimed at young girls. However, the past decade has seen the studio clever and consistently reinventing this archetypal “fairy tale” sort of story for the twenty-first century, to the point that it’s arguably that the run of movies from Tangled onwards has been the most consistent of the studio’s output.

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

Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Five: Survivors of the Flux (Review)

“We’re not in the universe.”

Survivors of the Flux marks a return to the narrative style of both The Halloween Apocalypse and Once, Upon Time.

It’s not so much an individual episode of television so much as it’s a space in which the larger narrative threads of the season advance itself. While it’s not as scattershot as Once, Upon Time, it lacks the clarity of focus and momentum that held The Halloween Apocalypse together as a season premiere. Surivivors of the Flux often feels like things happening, which is particularly noticeable in the two story threads focusing on the Great Serpent and the separated companion crew, which are largely a series of disconnected vignettes jumping through time and space respectively to provide a sense of scale to the adventure.

Tomb to manoeuvre.

Even more than The Halloween Apocalypse, Survivors of the Flux is an episode that hinges heavily on the looming series finale. The nature of Doctor Who: Flux places a lot of weight on The Vanquishers. If the season finale is suitably compelling, any earlier missteps will either be retroactively justified or easily excused. However, if the last episode of the set collapses into itself, it may erase a lot of the more interesting ideas leading into it. It is best to travel hopefully, but The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos and The Timeless Children are perhaps cause for concern.

Survivors of the Flux is not only a heavily serialised instalment, it’s also recognisable as the first half of the season finale. It is comparable to something like The Stolen Earth or Dark Water. The best of these penultimate seasonal episodes manage to balance a compelling self-contained narrative, or at least engaging character work, with the necessity of setting up larger plot arcs to pay off the following episode. Survivors of the Flux feels a lot more like homework than episodes like Heaven Sent or World Enough and Time.

Glowing concern.

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262. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (#250)

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. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.

In the countryside, a married man finds himself tempted by a visitor from the city. Deciding to murder his wife and escape from his mundane life, the man has a last minute change of heart. Their passion reignited, the married couple embark on an adventure to the big city, where they might get lost in the crowds and perhaps find each other once again.

At time of recording, it was ranked 250th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On Letting Ridley Scott Be a Grumpy Old Man…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of House of Gucci, Ridley Scott has had a chance to talk about the financial failure of The Last Duel, blaming “millennian” audiences.

Scott’s comments have generated considerable online outrage, fueling more than a few clickbaity headlines designed to stoke anger. It’s a familiar process, which is why so many interviews seem to consist of asking really great directors what they think about superhero movies so that the outlet might be able to go viral with a spicy headline. In truth, Scott’s a filmmaker who has been working for well over half a decade. He’s an 84-year-old man who made two movies in the middle of the pandemic – one of which is actively good, and both are at least interesting. Maybe he can be a grumpy old man.

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

Non-Review Review: House of Gucci

At its core, House of Gucci is the story of how the handbag is made.

Trying to convince his nephew Maurizio to take the reigns on the family business, Aldo Gucci explains that the cows that provide the leather for the company’s products are part of a long dynasty. Much like Aldo and his brother Rodolfo inherited the company from their own father Guccio Gucci, these cows are the direct descendents of the animals upon which the brand was established. To Aldo, Gucci is a fmaily business, right down to the cows that are fattened for slaughter. Aldo insists that the cows deserve praise for what they have given their owners. However, the cows still inevitably get skinned.

Where there’s smoke…

House of Gucci returns time and again to this animal imagery. “Gucci is a rare animal,” Domenico De Sole warns Patrizia Reggiani at one point, as the family consider how best to maintain the brand. “It must be protected.” It’s no coincidence that, towards the climax of the movie, the investors debating the future of the family’s ownership of the brand enjoy delicious cuts of steak. It’s rare, of course, the blood visible as they cut into it. The imagery is hardly subtle. Perhaps Aldo and his family have more in common with the cows than they’d like to acknowledge.

House of Gucci feels like something of a companion piece to two other recent Ridley Scott films, The Counsellor and All the Money in the World. Both feel like extrapolations of themes that have bubbled across the director’s filmography, from his earliest work on movies like Alien and Blade Runner. They are cautionary tales about the terrible things that people will do to one another for money, shaped by the ironic understanding that even after all these terrible things are done, nobody really wins. House of Gucci is not a particularly subtle movie, but it doesn’t need to be.

Glass act.

House of Gucci is similar to The Counsellor and All the Money in the World in other ways, as a movie that feels significantly less than the sum of its parts. Then again, what parts they are. House of Gucci doesn’t really hang together cohesively as a movie, often feeling like several smaller movies wrestling for control of the narrative. Every major member of the cast feels like they are the star of their own movie, but not necessarily an essential part of this movie. House of Gucci puts Howard Hawks’ “three great scenes” hypothesis to the test, compiling a number of compelling individual scenes that rarely add to something greater.

House of Gucci is an interesting, disjointed, uneven but strangely compelling study of what wealth does to people – particularly when it no longer needs them.

A familiar ring to it.

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Non-Review Review: Encanto

One of the most interesting and overlooked entertainment trends in the past decade has been the extent to which Disney’s animated films have quietly become the studio’s most reliable output, ahead of higher-profile properties like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, it’s possible to argue at least convincingly that Disney’s animated films have been more consistent in quality than those from Pixar, even allowing for Pixar’s success with movies like Inside Out.

The studio entered the twenty-first century in a state of crisis over its traditional animated features. There was a perception that the studio’s classic “princess movies” like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid or Pocahontas or Mulan were outdated, and that the studio needed to reconfigure its image to appeal to young male demographics. The acquisition of other brands like Star Wars eased the pressure somewhat, and the studio’s animated output has become more comfortable in its own skin with female-led animated projects including Tangled, Frozen, Moana, Frozen II and Raya and the Last Dragon.

Family portrait.

The studio’s animation division has spent the past decade tinkering with the formula and assumptions that drive these sorts of films, in some ways cutting to what was always the heart of the genre. Love stories are now optional for female leads. Villains are more complex and multifaceted. Themes are richer and more ambitious. It’s perhaps too much to suggest that Disney has spent the past decade quietly and carefully deconstructing and then reconstructing the familiar “princess movie” storytelling engine, but it’s also not inaccurate. The studio has done this in a careful and considered manner, never feeling false or cynical.

In some ways, Encanto feels like the culmination of this larger trend. It is a movie that is instantly recognisable as part of the familiar animated “princess movie” template, a musical about a young woman in a remote location coming into her own to find her identity. It’s a stunning piece of animation, with a charming cast and some catchy musical numbers. However, it’s also a surprisingly thoughtful and clever subversion of some of the core ingredients in these sorts of movies. It’s a story about a lead character whose epic adventure begins at home, who finds herself without needing to leave the house.

Food for thought.

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New Podcast! Rarely Going – “Star Trek: Prodigy 1×05 – Terror Firma”

Rarely Going is a podcast looking at the animated corner of the Star Trek franchise. I was thrilled to be invited to join guest host Tony Black for a discussion of the fifth episode of Star Trek: Prodigy, the latest animated spin-off.

I had not had a chance to watch Prodigy before Tony invited me on the show, so it was fun to catch up with the series. Tony and I have a broad discussion about animated Star Trek, about the current state of the larger Star Trek franchise, about whether Star Trek could be seen as “children’s television for grown-ups.” We talk about the importance of serving multiple audiences, and the nostalgic affection for Star Trek: Voyager within modern fandom, and what that might mean for the future of modern iterations.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! On Squaring the Circle with Nostalgic Sequels Like “The Rise of Skywalker” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the larger trend of the modern nostalgia sequels, and the paradoxes at play within the genre.

By their very nature, belated sequels like Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens require the heroes to have left something unfinished or undone for years or even decades. Often, this involves forcing the heroes’ children to effectively grapple with the exact same problem that haunted their parents. There’s a recurring theme of generational failure running through these stories, a sense that the failure of these older heroes to wrap up their own stories exists at odds with the nostalgia that powers such stories.

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

Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Four: Village of the Angels (Review)

“Doctor, there are angels in the wall here.”

“Of course there are! Why wouldn’t there be?”

Village of the Angels largely works.

It is the best episode of Doctor Who: Flux to this point, and certainly the best episode of Doctor Who since Maxine Alderton’s last credit on The Haunting of the Villa Diodati. Like The Haunting of the Villa Diodati, Village of the Angels is an interesting high-concept cocktail: it is a period-piece base-under-siege story with a classic monster and simmering occult undertones. It is an illustration of how sturdy some of these Doctor Who templates can be, and how there’s room for novelty and ambition to be found even when playing the old standards.

Angels of the Mourning.

That said, Village of the Angels does run into a couple of problems. Like The Haunting of the Villa Diodati, it is a narrative that feels somewhat undercut by the decision to use it as a launching pad into the two-part season finale. There are enough interesting characters and concepts at play in Village of the Angels that the episode feels like it deserves to function as more than just an extended trailer for the epic closing story of the season around it. Village of the Angels is a story that has markedly less internal resolution than War of the Sontarans, and it almost feels like both episodes would be better served by swapping places.

Still, that’s a relatively minor complaint about one of the most impressive episodes of the Chibnall and Whittaker era.

Grave danger.

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261. Gladiator (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Stacy Grouden and Joe Griffin, 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 Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

As Rome extends its dominion over the rest of the world, General Maximus Decimus Meridius dreams only of returning home to his family. However, fate has other plans. When Maximus winds up accidentally involved in a sinister conspiracy surrounding the beloved Emperor Marcus Aurelius, his entire life is thrown into chaos. Maximus finds himself abandoned and left for dead. Recovered by a slave trader, Maximus is sold to an older entertainment manager Proximo, who sees a lot of potential in “the Spaniard.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 44th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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