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Non-Review Review: On the Rocks

On the Rocks is a disarmingly charming film.

Sofia Coppola’s latest is built around the relationship between Laura and her father Felix. Laura is happily married with two young girls, but has begun to suspect that her marriage is dysfunctional. There are small clues. Her husband Dean seems less interested in physical intimacy, and has been spending more time at the office with his co-worker Fiona. As her suspicions mount, Laura reaches out to her father Felix, who has spent his life as a debonair playboy with a somewhat cynical perspective of the masculine psyche.

Daddy daughter day.

On the Rocks is an earnest dramedy, following the dynamic between Laura and Felix as they launch an investigation into her husband’s potential affair. It’s elevated by two superb central performances, a clever script, and direction that allows its characters and its actors room to work. There’s a surprising amount of honest and introspection in On the Rocks, but also a surprising earnestness. On the Rocks is a surprisingly empathic film, never judging or condemning its characters as easily as it might.

The results are engaging and heartening. In some ways, particularly given the central dynamic of an older man played by Bill Murray and a younger woman managing her own life crisis, it’s hard not to see On the Rocks as a companion piece to Coppola’s breakout film Lost in Translation. However, there’s a lot more maturity and reflection at play here, a kindness and gentleness that feels earned through the two decades between then and now.

“Enjoying a nice Mar-team-ee.”

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New Escapist Column! On the “Joker” Controversy, One Year Out…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. It’s been roughly a year since the release of Joker, so it seems appropriate to take a look back at the controversy surrounding the film.

The controversy around Joker is interesting, because it was at once so loud and so meaningless. In the lead-up to the film’s release, there was a lot of hyperbole around the movie, arguing that it might empower or encourage a certain audience – angry young men – to commit acts of violence. This made the release of the film something of a wry practical joke, with Joker ultimately bending over backwards to avoid any potentially inflammatory choices. The result was a storm that raged in a tea cup, but which seemed eager to bubble over.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Strange Logic of Netflix’s Cancellations…

I published a new piece at The Escapist today. With Netflix announcing a number of major cancellations recently – from GLOW to Altered Carbon – it seemed like an interesting topic to discuss and explore.

Netflix operates a bit more opaquely than more conventional television broadcasters, and so its internal logic is a little rougher around the edges. However, the logic of cancellation has become a little clearer over time, as the streamer has drawn the shutter down on more and more of its shows. Indeed, with the benefit of the growing dataset, it appears that the underlying logic of cancellation for the streaming service is not radically different from that of television – even if the underlying math is a little more unusual.

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

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “The Excellence of The Haunting of Bly Manor”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the eighth episode. It was a light enough week for film news, so we talked about Disney’s pivot to streaming, the rumours about the upcoming sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, and the joys of The Haunting of Bly Manor.

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

204. Gangs of New York – Summer of Scorsese (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle 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, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, KundunThe Aviator, The Departed. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

New York is a furnace. As Irish immigrants arrive off the boats, they find an old conflict waiting for them. As the Civil War wages and passions stir, young Amsterdam Vallon seems to avenge the death of his father by slaying the local crime lord Bill the Butcher. However, things are never as simple as they appear; worlds collide and loyalties shift as the city begins to settle around them.

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

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New Escapist Column! On “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” as the Key to “The Haunting of Bly Manor”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of The Haunting of Bly Manor last week, I figured it was worth a look at the season’s standout episode, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.

Early in the season, the character of Peter Quint explains to young Miles Wingrave that people are like locked doors – in order to understand them, and get inside of them, one needs a key. That key serves as a detail that ties the whole together and makes sense of it all. The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, the penultimate episode of the season, serves that purpose – not only for The Haunting of Bly Manor itself, but arguably the bulk of showrunner Mike Flanagan’s output.

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

New Escapist Video! On the Snyder Cut and the Future of Pandemic Cinema…

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 month, it will be releasing on the Thursday.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode, covering the long-looming release of The Snyder Cut of Justice League, and why this might represent an attractive model for studios desperately looking for new (and affordable) content in the midst of a pandemic.

Non-Review Review: Rebecca

The most shocking thing about Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of Rebecca is how tame it feels.

The bulk of the coverage of the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance focuses on the idea that Wheatley is tilting at cinematic windmills by daring to explore the same ground that Alfred Hitchcock had already so memorably mapped. Hitchcock is as close to a cinematic sacred cow as exists, and to attempt to remake one of his most beloved films would be tantamount to making another version of Gone with the Wind or restaging Casablanca. It is one of the rare lines that exists in a modern pop culture built around recycling existing intellectual property.

Maxim-um fun.

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with daring to approach the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. After all, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker was very much an update of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. More than that, there are perhaps valid reasons for wanting to go to Manderley again. Hitchcock’s adaptation of du Maurier’s novel was constrained by the demands of the Production Code Authority, and forced to change key plot points and obscure others through subtext. While some observers might argue this renders the film more “artful”, it does justify a revisit in a less puritanical time.

However, Wheatley never manages to bring these ideas to the surface. His version of Rebecca never manages to quite articulate or express the anxieties lurking in the shadow of Hitchcock’s classic. Rebecca is a sleek and stylish production with a set of solid performances and a few flashes of visual vigour, but it lacks a strong sense of its own identity – often seeming disjointedly caught between its influences and its impulses, failing to reconcile the two into anything especially compelling.

A time for reflection.

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New Escapist Column! On the Potential of the Pandemic Awards Season…

I published a new piece at The Escapist today. There’s been a lot of interesting debate recently about the Academy Awards, and what what they might look like this year, so I thought it was worth taking a closer look.

With cinemas closed around the world – and most obviously in the familiar movie markets of Los Angeles and New York – it would be impossible for this awards season to work in the same way as previous years. The Academy has made changes to its rules to compensate, but some observers argue that the Oscar simply cannot go ahead in the current climate. However, there’s a solid argument to be made for pressing ahead under these conditions – for an awards season that looks as bizarre as the year that led into it.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Forgotten Psychedelia of the First Season of “Star Trek: Discovery”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the third season of Star Trek: Discovery premiering later this week, I thought it was worth taking a look back at the first season of the Star Trek relaunch.

The first season of Discovery is fascinating, in large part because it genuinely feels like a completely different iteration of the Star Trek franchise. As befitting the mood of the moment, Discovery largely bypasses nostalgia for the Berman era and reconnects the franchise with the psychedelia and anxieties of the franchise’s original sixties television series. This is a show that exists in the same irrational and chaotic universe as episodes like The Man TrapCharlie X, Dagger of the Mind, Catspaw, Mirror, MirrorThe Immunity Syndrome, The Tholian Web and many more.

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