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New Escapist Column! Rorschach, White Supremacy and “Watchmen”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday. One of the more interesting aspects of Watchmen has been the controversy that the series has demonstrated by looking at white supremacy head-on.

In particular, the show’s treatment of the legacy of Rorschach has been controversial to some fans, who have objected to the idea that his iconography would be adopted by a white supremacy group like the Seventh Kavalry. However, these concerns suggest a misreading of the graphic novel, which offers a very start view of Rorschach’s politics. Indeed, any close reading of Watchmen suggests it is almost inevitable that Rorschach would become a beacon for the sort of reactionary views that power the modern alt-right.

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

New Escapist Column! “The Shining” and the Perfect Haunted House…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday. Because it was Halloween and because of the release of Doctor Sleep, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look about at The Shining.

The Shining is my favourite horror movie ever. It is one of my favourite films ever. It is the rare piece of work that offers something new every single time I sit down to watch it. As I’ve thought more and more about it over the years, I’ve been drawn to the way in which the power of the Overlook is one of scale. It is big enough that it can serve as a fun house mirror to the anxieties of America itself, but also intimate enough that the familial anxieties of the Torrance family can play out within it. It is both large enough and small enough to work as the perfect haunted house.

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

Amazing.

New Escapist Column! The Real Paradox at the Heart of the Post-“Judgment Day” Terminator Sequels…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one is taking a look at Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest effort to produce a faithful and worthy sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

However, there’s an abiding irony to the four attempted sequels to James Cameron’s blockbuster classic. The four films all hope to position themselves as worthy successors to Judgment Day, while their very existence serves as a repudiation of its core themes. There is an inherent contradiction there, in that any attempt to honour or homage Judgment Day must – by its mere existence – invalidate the central thematic point. None of the four attempts to produce a workable sequel to Judgment Day have managed to square that particular circle.

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

New Escapist Column! The Flawed Redemption at the Heart of “Return of the Jedi”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one has been kicking around inside my head for a little while, but came to the fore with the recent trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Primarily, the flawed redemption at the heart of Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi.

Look, everybody knows the basic arc of the Star Wars saga. Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father, sets out to redeem him, manages to turn Vader away from the dark side before Vader dies. However, that’s never been quite how it works. The actual arc is a lot messier and more complicated, and a lot less conventionally heroic than it is remembered. Return of the Jedi never actually bothers to redeem Vader, instead focusing on redeeming Luke’s idea of Vader. At its core, Return of the Jedi is a story about how hard Luke wants to believe his father was a good man, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Along the way, Luke gambles the entire future of the Rebel Alliance and his sister’s fate on the assumption that there is goodness in Vader, while the film never actually bothers to demonstrate that there is any. It’s a fascinating incomplete arc, and one that hints at a gaping moral void at the heart of the larger Star Wars saga. It’s a story about how an individual’s redemption doesn’t matter, only other people’s idea of that redemption. In its own way, it marks Return of the Jedi as a quintessentially eighties movie; it is a story about how the most important thing to Luke is not the fate of the galaxy, but his own self-image.

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

New Escapist Column! “Watchmen” and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday. With the release of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen, it seemed appropriate to cast an eye back to Zack Snyder’s cinematic adaptation.

I have a huge amount of admiration for Snyder’s version of Watchmen, even if I don’t think it actually works. It is a Herculean effort to bring the story to the screen, one committed to directly transposing as much of the source material from page to screen, but often without really stopping to think about what the dialogue or imagery actually means. It is in many ways a demonstration of the limits of slavish devotion in adaptation. It is a counterpoint to the argument that all it takes to adapt a major work from one medium to another is literalism.

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

New Escapist Column! “Gemini Man”, and the Battle Between Hollywood’s Past and Future…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday. This one takes a look at Gemini Man.

Ang Lee’s latest is a very strange beast, a nineties action movie throwback wrapped in modern technology. It pits nineties action movie icon (and one of the last surviving movie stars) Will Smith against a young computer-generated replacement, while allowing Ang Lee to embrace both a strange fascination with nineties era John Woo and his enthusiasm for technology literally so advanced that no cinema in the United States could show the film as intended. And this tension between old and new plays through Gemini Man in interesting ways.

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

“Someone Who Hides Behind a Mask.” “Joker”, Superheroes, Vigilantes, and Pulp Friction…

A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Joker.

This makes sense. After all, it entered the discussion as a source of moral panic. It then emerged as a box office smash. It is a potential awards contender. And it provides an interesting intersection of genre. It is a hybrid of the dominant genre at the contemporary blockbuster with more ambitious and abstract awards fare. As such, it is not a surprise that Joker has dominated public attention in the way that it has. It seems almost tailor-made to generate discussion and debate, even if that can occasionally feel deafening.

That said, one of the most interesting and frustrating aspects of Joker is the way in which the film deliberately and consciously avoids crossing any particularly provocative lines. The film sidesteps a lot of potentially thorny issues of race and gender, perhaps wary of the potential internet blow back. If the film is making a point about anything, it seems to be a self-aware acknowledgement of the desire to imbue objects with symbolic weight and meaning even when they have not been designed to bear the weight. “I’m not political,” Arthur Fleck asserts, as political meaning is imposed upon him.

That said, there is something very interesting at the heart of Joker, something that likely emerged almost entirely by accident. Joker provides an interesting genre hybrid of the seventies and eighties vigilante thriller with the contemporary superhero blockbuster. And, in doing so, suggests an interesting throughline. Joker suggests that the superhero blockbuster isn’t as far removed from these urban power fantasies as the audience might like to believe.

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