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New Escapist Column! On How “Captain Marvel” and the Perils of Prioritising Plot Above Character…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. With the news that Nia DaCosta will be directing the sequel to Captain Marvel, it seemed the right time to take a look back at the earlier film.

There is a lot to like about Captain Marvel. It is an extremely charming movie. However, it also suffers from one of the bigger recurring problems of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is structured around a major plot reveal that lands at pretty much exactly the halfway point. However, this plot reveal is both incredibly obvious and something that prevents the first half of the movie from engaging in any characterisation. Captain Marvel feels like an expression of the recurring sense that Marvel Studios movies are nothing more than plot delivery mechanisms.

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

New Escapist Column! On Edward Norton, “The Incredible Hulk”, and the Kinds of Movies Marvel Doesn’t Want to Make…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Prompted by a conversation with a colleague Matthew Razak, I took a look at the troubled second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk.

I have always had something of a soft spot for The Incredible Hulk, in large part because it feels appropriate that a movie about the Green Goliath should find itself caught between extremes. The Incredible Hulk was caught in a conflict between Edward Norton and Marvel Studios. Norton wanted an introspective character-driven superhero film, and Marvel… didn’t. In some ways, The Incredible Hulk offered as clear a roadmap to the future of Marvel Cinematic Universe as Iron Man, if only because it served to illustrate what Marvel didn’t want from their blockbusters.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “Mulan” is Coming to Disney+, and Studios Are Leaving America Behind…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. With the news that Mulan will be streaming on Disney+ – for a hefty $30 fee – it seemed worth discussing the real story.

A lot of the discussion around Mulan releasing on Disney+ has revolved around the studio’s plan to charge an additional fee, on top of the subscription, for it. This is reasonable. It is a big shift in the American cinematic market. However, it is only part of the story. The video-on-demand release of Mulan will not be enough to turn a significant profit of itself, and it’s clear that the decision to release Mulan at all is rooted in the fact that the international theatrical market is coming back to life. Disney are banking big on Chinese box office.

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

New Escapist Column! On How Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2010 Predicted Our Post Truth Age…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With both Shutter Island and Inception turning ten years old this year, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to look back on Leonardo DiCaprio’s interesting double feature from 2010.

There are some interesting parallels between Shutter Island and Inception. Both are stories about men who retreat into fantasy following the death of their wife in order to process their guilt and the sense of responsibility that they have for that death. These are probably DiCaprio’s two strongest performances, and it’s striking that they came so close together. However, rewatched a decade later, it’s amazing how well these two films have aged. In hindsight, they foreshadow the decade to come, offering a glimpse of the post truth era.

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

New Escapist Column! On “The Terminator” as a Slyly Subversive Slasher…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. I rewatched The Terminator recently, and got thinking about the film as a horror movie rather than a science-fiction film.

The Terminator is often considered a landmark science-fiction film, and understandably so. However, The Terminator also works as a horror movie. It’s a slasher movie about a relentless force chasing a young woman through a nightmarish Los Angeles lit in shades of neon blue and green, so as to evoke a sense of insomnia. However, Cameron does more than just embrace the tropes of the slasher movie. He engages with them, and puts a subtly subversive twist on the standard rules of the genre.

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

New Escapist Column! On “The Snyder Cut” and Superhero Apocrypha…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Over the weekend, some new details came to light about Zack Snyder’s plans to restore his original vision for Justice League, particularly the assertion that it would not be “canon” with Warners’ other superhero films.

To a certain extent, this is obvious. There is no way to make Snyder’s version of Justice League fit with the films that followed, like Aquaman or Shazam! However, it’s a somewhat bolder statement. Since the emergence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the shared universe has been treated as a romantic ideal towards which these films should aspire. Indeed, a large part of the justification for recutting Snyder’s film was to protect the brand. As such, it seems appropriate that The Snyder Cut rejects the idea of the canon for apocrypha.

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

New Podcast! The Movie Palace – “Summer of Psycho: The Shower Sequence”

I had the pleasure of joining the great and generous Carl Sweeney on his excellent classic Hollywood podcast The Movie Palace.

To mark the sixtieth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, The Movie Palace has dedicated a run of episodes to exploring various elements of the iconic horror film. I was thrilled to join Carl for a discussion of the movie’s infamous shower scene, one of the famous memorable and distinctive sequences in the history of cinema. So we discuss what it means and how it works, both in the context of Psycho and outside of it.

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 Future of Cinemas…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. With the summer effectively lost, the future of cinema is a subject of much discussion.

Will cinemas open soon? If they open soon, what will they show? If they have films to show, will audiences turn up? If audience show up, how will basic safety measures like social distancing and masks impact their financial bottom line? Will cinemas be among the attractions that people are most eager to revisit when the chance presents itself? More than that, what will a visit to cinemas actually be like? To answer these questions, I actually took a trip to a recently reopened cinema in Ireland.

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

“The Best Sword is Kept in its Sheath”: Akira Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro” and the Reluctant Samurai…

I got to write about Akira Kurosawa earlier this week for The Escapist, which was great. However, having rewatched a bunch of his films at the weekend, I had some more in-depth thoughts I wanted to share on them. One in particular. I recorded a podcast on Sanjuro last year, which might also be of interest.

Sanjuro is something of an oddity in the filmography of director Akira Kurosawa.

The film is one of only two sequels in Kurosawa’s filmography, following on from Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two seventeen years earlier. It is also the last of Kurosawa’s black-and-white samurai films. While Kurosawa did make other black-and-white period films, such as his last collaboration with Tushiro Mifune in Red Beard, he would not return to stories of warlords and swordsmen until Kagemusha and Ran in the eighties.

Sanjuro is somewhat underseen among Kurosawa’s black-and-white samurai films, which is interesting. It is the sequel to one of Kurosawa’s most influential films. Yojimbo famously inspired one of the formative spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars, and so helped to inspire a renaissance in American westerns. It introduced a basic plot that was often emulated, leading to remakes like Last Man Standing. When Sanjuro is discussed, it is often in terms of its striking final scene, in which the eponymous samurai strikes down an opponent, resulting in a geyser of blood.

This is a shame, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Sanjuro, particularly in relation to the forms and conventions of the samurai genre. Kurosawa’s samurai films are at once archetypal and deconstructive. To a lot of international audiences, films like Rashomon, Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress are shorthand for the Japanese samurai films of the fifties. However, they are also surprisingly critical of the idea of the samurai. They draw on the cinematic language of John Ford westerns, but predict the cynicism of Sergio Leone westerns.

This is perhaps no more obvious than in Sanjuro. The film originated as an adaptation of Shūgorō Yamamoto’s short story Peaceful Days. Kurosawa had been working on an adaptation of the story before Yojimbo, but the success of Yojimbo saw the studio approaching Kurosawa to make a sequel. Kurosawa took an interesting approach. He wrote the character of Sanjuro into the story of Peaceful Days, replacing the unskilled-with-a-blade ronin from the source novel. Kurosawa also turned up the humour in the script.

The result is fascinating. Watching Sanjuro, it often feels like the title character has wandered into a situation that its protagonists have mistaken for a romantic historical epic: a story of virtue triumphing over corruption. Sanjuro spends a lot of the film openly ridiculing the nine samurai at the centre of the film, picking apart their understanding of how the world works, and generally rolling his eyes at the heightened melodramatic elements of the narrative. Sanjuro is the story of a samurai whose blade is so sharp that it cuts at the narrative that contains him.

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New Escapist Column! On the Lasting Appeal of Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai Films…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Since The Escapist is a video game website, and since Ghost of Tsushima was released this weekend, I thought I’d take a look at one of the big influences on that smash hit video game.

Akira Kurosawa directed far more than samurai films, but his samurai films made an indelible mark on popular culture. Even more than half-a-century removed from most of them, Kurosawa’s samurai films remain vibrant and vital. Part of this is down to their complexity; they are at once Japanese and universal, they draw from Old Hollywood while also inspiring New Hollywood, they codify the samurai archetype while also deconstructing it. Kurosawa’s films bristle with compelling contradictions and perfect paradoxes, demonstrating a richness that endures to this day.

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