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New Escapist Column! On the Perpetual Apocalypse of “Atomic Blonde”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Since it’s three years old, and there are rumours of a sequel coming, I thought it was worth taking a look at Atomic Blonde.

Released in July 2017 and set in November 1989, there’s a pervasive sense of apocalypse to Atomic Blonde. Set against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall and released in the early months of the Trump Presidency, Atomic Blonde captures the sense of a world collapsing into madness. The deliberately jumbled spy thriller unfolds as the ordering principles of the Cold War collapse around it. There’s a grim, suffocating, brutal nihilism to Atomic Blonde, one underscored in the film’s central fear: what if the apocalypse itself never actually ends? what if it’s eternal?

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

 

New Escapist Column! On the Cynicism of “Inception”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier this week. Because Inception turned ten years old this week, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to look back at Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster.

Inception is often discussed as a movie about movies, how the film’s team of dream infiltrators often feel like a team of filmmakers constructing an elaborate spectacle for an audience of one. However, this train of thought is rarely developed beyond the original premise. If Inception is a movie about movies, what exactly does it have to say about movies? How does it feel about them? The answers are surprisingly complicated and nuanced, especially in the context of a summer blockbuster from a director who clearly adores the format.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Strange Moral Panic Around “Batman Forever”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With the film turning twenty-five last month and rumours circulating of a Joel Schumacher cut, it seemed like a good time to discuss Batman Forever.

Following on from Batman and Batman Returns, there was an immediate push for Batman Forever to be a much more conventional blockbuster. One of the interesting consequences of this is the complete erasure of anything that makes a Batman movie distinctive or unique. Batman Forever feels like a moral panic film, one desperately worried how kids might respond to the weirdness or dysfunction of Batman Returns. As such, Batman Forever offers a much more generic, much more conventional, much straighter, less interesting take on the Caped Crusader than any other film.

Indeed, the film resembles nothing so much as the moral panic around the character in the fifties, when – prompted by the publication of Doctor Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent – there was a conscious effort to massage the character into a much more straightforward (and less complicated and less provocative) shape. Batman Forever follows a lot of the same playbook, resulting in a vision of Batman just as lost and muddled as so many of those fifties stories.

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

New Escapist Column! On “The Old Guard” and Offering Easy Answers to Tough Problems…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. The Old Guard was released on Netflix this evening, so it seemed a film that was worth discussing.

The Old Guard is essentially a film that exists half-way between a turn-of-the-millennium high-concept action film and a modern superhero blockbuster, and it doesn’t always split the difference in a particularly elegant way. This is a film that is about the importance of doing good in the world, even when the results aren’t quantifiable or apparent. However, it makes a rather clumsy and facile argument about that, lacking the strength or vision to make its point from first principles.

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

“There’s Nobody Left But You”: The Existential Horror at the Heart of White Heat…

Last weekend, on the podcast I co-host called The 250, we discussed James Cagney’s 1949 gangster classic White Heat, with the wonderful Carl Sweeney from The Movie Palace Podcast. I’ve been thinking a lot about the film since, and so had some thoughts I just wanted to jot down.

White Heat is a gangster film, starring James Cagney.

It’s frequently discussed in relation to The Public Enemy, which makes sense. Both White Heat and The Public Enemy are mid-century gangster films starring James Cagney. It also merits comparison to The Roaring Twenties, another gangster film starring James Cagney and directed by Raoul Walsh. There’s a tendency to lump these sorts of films together, to examine them as part of a greater whole. It certainly makes sense in this context. After all, a huge part of the appeal of White Heat at time of release derived from seeing James Cagney playing a gangster once again.

However, there’s something altogether stranger about White Heat. It isn’t a film that fits particularly comfortably into the gangster genre, despite the obvious trappings. James Cagney plays the role of Cody Jarrett, the leader of a vicious gang introduced conducting a train robbery and who go on to plot a chemical plant raid at the climax. There is all manner of betrayal and violence, backstabbing and revenging. There are cops in dogged pursuit of the criminals, while Cody demonstrates that nobody should underestimate him.

Still, there’s something simmering beneath the surface of White Heat. As much as the film follows the structures and conventions of a crime film, it plays more like a melancholy monster movie. It is a funereal salute to a mythic figure retreating into history, a horror story about an outdated evil lurking in the shadows, trying to navigate a world that no longer has a place for it.

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New Escapist Column! On “Predators” as a Film That Understands Its Own Limitations…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Predators is ten years old, so it seemed like an appropriate time to take a look back that second (and best) Predator sequel.

In hindsight, Predators is the rare movie that understands the limitations of its core premise. Fox spent decades trying to turn Predator into a franchise, but the sequels largely disappointed. A large part of this is down to the fact that Predator is a concept anchored in a particular time and place, without the timeless quality of a movie like Alien. In contrast to the other Predator sequels, Predators is a lean and modest machine. It never pushes its central concept too far, instead offering a pulpy and enjoyable b-movie. In doing so, it mostly works as a worthy successor.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Cynical Honesty of “Terminator: Genisys”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Terminator: Genisys turned five years old this month, so it seemed like the right time to take a look back at the third (of four) attempts to make a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Genisys has been largely forgotten, even overridden by the next film in the saga – Terminator: Dark Fate. This makes sense. Genisys itself overrode the previous two films on its own terms. Still, Genisys is an instructive and informative piece of blockbuster cinema. It’s a messy film, but in that messiness there’s an honesty. Genisys is a film that is naked in its ambition and its intent, in its efforts to reiterate and regurgitate the past while erasing any potential evolution. It’s a film that captures the emptiness of modern franchise filmmaking at its most cynical, and its most honest.

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

 

“The Truman Show” Didn’t Just Predict Our Future, But Also the Future of How Movies Would Be Sold…

More than twenty years after its release, it feels like everything that might be said about The Truman Show has already been said.

The Truman Show is that rare Hollywood blockbuster that feels somehow simultaneously timeless, timely and prescient. It speaks to anxieties that resonate throughout history, fears that were very particular to the cusp of the millennium, and to nightmares that were yet to come. It belongs at once to that age-old anxiety that the world is an illusion and human comprehension is insufficient, to the difficult-to-articulate existential uncertainty of the so-called “end of history”, to a future in which everybody would willingly become the star of their own Truman Show.

Indeed, The Truman Show seems to say so much about the world outside itself and the human condition that it’s possible to miss the film itself. Peter Weir’s late nineties blockbuster is a surreal slice of history itself, a relatively big budget mainstream release starring one of the most famous people on the planet, built around a rather abstract high concept. Not only was the film a massive critical success, it also managed to survive and prosper against a heated summer season.

While its actual themes and contents might be dystopian, The Truman Show itself offers an optimistic glimpse of a kind of blockbuster that seems increasingly unlikely.

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New Escapist Column! On How Pixar Reinvented American Theatrical Animation…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the release of Toy Story 3 and the planned release date of Soul, so I thought it was a good time to take a look back at what made Pixar special.

Everybody talks about how emotive Pixar films are, how much they resonate with audiences on that level. However, what’s most striking and impressive – and perhaps most influential – about Pixar’s output is the way in which the studio draws consciously from a wide variety of influences to tell a wide variety of stories. There’s a lot of variety in the Pixar canon, they films playing with a large number of genres in interesting ways, repurposing classic formulae for a much younger audience than would have been the intended audience for the original films in question.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Batman Begins” as the Perfect Superhero Origin Story…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. It’s the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Batman Begins, so it felt appropriate to look back on the film as the perfect superhero origin story.

Christopher Nolan dedicates Batman Begins to getting inside the head of Bruce Wayne, to the point that the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul and Scarecrow are defined almost entirely as counterpoints to the Caped Crusader. Nolan builds the character from the ground up, explaining everything about the character’s perspective and psychology – why he says what he says, why he acts like he does, why he thinks what he thinks. Most impressively, Nolan provides a meaningful answer to a question the character’s mythology long glossed over. “Why bats, Master Wayne?”

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