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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 5, Episode 14 (“The Red and the Black”)

Continuing on from our discussion of Patient X last week, I was thrilled to join the sensational Kurt North on The X-Cast to discuss the second half of my second favourite mythology two-parter, The Red and the Black.

This was a fun and wide-ranging discussion of the two-parter, which really leaned into the sort of goofy epic stuff that I loved about The X-Files at its peak, the sort of free-wheeling “all ideas at the wall” approach to plotting that managed to fold in concepts like an existential “war in heaven” while recycling ideas from Millennium for a blockbuster adventure that seemed to be as interested in setting up Two Fathers and One Son as it was in lining up with the pending release of The X-Files: Fight the Future. There’s an enjoyable ambition to the two-parter, which has largely been missing from the mythology since Talitha Cumi.

As ever, I hope you enjoy. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Column! On the “Necessity” of the R-Rating for “Birds of Prey”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday, looking at the debate around the “R-rating” that Birds of Prey earned.

Following the film’s release, there’s been a lot of a debate around Birds of Prey, particularly in light of its box office performance. One of the more interesting arguments has been around the film’s age rating, with several pundits arguing that the film did not “need” to be rated R, that it could have been cut to a PG-13 movie without losing anything of value. This is an interesting argument, one that deserves a little interrogation. After all, the scenes which likely earned Birds of Prey its R-rating – certainly the scenes singled out as unnecessary by such critics – are essential to its identity. They make the film unique and distinct.

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

Doctor Who: Ascension of the Cybermen (Review)

The cynical observation about Ascension of the Cybermen would be that Chris Chibnall has spent the previous season building to an excuse to do Earthshock on a modern television budget.

After all, for all that Ascension of the Cybermen seems to tease mythos-shattering revelations, there is very little in the episode that hasn’t been seen before. The episode builds towards two concurrent cliffhangers. The first is a standard “unexpected Master reveal”, a cliffhanger that Chibnall employed earlier in the season with Spyfall, Part I. More than that, it’s pretty much one of the most archetypal Doctor Who cliffhangers. (There is something be said for symmetry, but recycling the same cliffhanger beat from the season premiere is decidedly unambitious.)

“Okay, it’s season finale time. So generic grey battlefield.”

Similarly, a large part of the power of the climax of Ascension of the Cybermen comes from the revelation that Doctor Who now has the budget to offer a particularly impressive riff on the classic “army of monsters” cliffhanger of the kind employed in beloved stories like Tomb of the Cybermen and less beloved stories like The Leisure Hive. There’s a real sense at the end of Ascension of the Cybermen that the audience is meant to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Cybermen on screen.

There are other smaller familiar cues tucked away within Ascension of the Cybermen. Chibnall also borrows a few smaller touches from his direct predecessor. The seemingly disconnected snapshots of mundane life juxtaposed with science-fiction spectacle is a familiar narrative trick within Steven Moffat’s two-parters for the show, notably the thread focusing on CAL and Doctor Moon in Silence in the Library and Danny Pink’s bureaucratic induction into the afterlife in Dark Water. Brendan’s plot offers a broader sort of conceptual mystery, a plot waiting to tie in.

Lone ranger.

However, amid all of this cacophony, there’s a strange modesty to this season finale. Ascension of the Cybermen is very much a triumph of production; it features a big introductory battle sequence, a host expensive-looking sets, galactic stakes and a sense of escalating danger. It takes its cues from a variety of familiar and populist sources, from Russell T. Davies’ work with the Daleks in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways through to the set-up of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The special effects are impressive. The production design is remarkable.

Despite all of this, even as it gestures at grand twists and turns, Ascension of the Cybermen seems to suggest that “Earthshock on a bigger budget” is the platonic ideal of Doctor Who in the twenty-first century. Like The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, there’s a sense in which Ascension of the Cybermen believes that a large part of any Doctor Who season finale should be spent running up and down large and atmospheric industrial corridors. It’s impressive, but it’s all rather hollow.

From the Ash(ad)s…

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New Escapist Column! On the Narrativisation of the “Birds of Prey” Box Office…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday, discussing the inevitable armchair quarterbacking of the Birds of Prey box office.

The film under-performed at the box office in its opening weekend, particularly relative to some of the more bullish predictions. It pulled in an opening weekend box office closer to similarly budgeted films like Kingsman: The Secret Service and Ford v. Ferrari than breakout smashes like Deadpool or 300. As a result, there’s a been a rush to account for those results, which often boils down to an attempt to narrativise the film’s failure – to argue that the causes for that result are easily discerned by outside observers. Of course, those analyses often handily fit various pre-determined narratives.

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

170. Before Sunset – “Two Guys Die Alone 2020” (#236)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jay Coyle, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a Valentine’s treat. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset.

Finishing up his book tour in Paris, Jessie crosses paths once again with Celine. With a little over an hour before Jessie has to catch a flight back to the United States, the pair take a stroll through Paris. As they do, the nine years since their last encounter fades away, allowing them to reminisce about what might have been and consider what might yet be.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 236th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Lost Girls

Lost Girls is a solid and unfussy true crime drama, anchored in a strong central performance from Amy Ryan.

There are interesting ideas simmering in the background of Lost Girls. Director Liz Garbus is best known as a documentarian, and there are certainly aspects of Lost Girls that feel like they belong more comfortably in a documentary than a narrative feature. Michael Werwie’s script is adapted from Robert Kolker’s book of the same name, looking at the case of the Long Island Serial Killer. The killer was never caught, with some speculation as to whether his last documented murder occurred in 2010 or 2013. The investigation is currently ongoing, which gives the film a certain edge and rawness.

However, Garbus works hard to keep things tasteful and restrained. In actual narrative terms, Lost Girls is fairly conventional. It often feels assembled from a list of scenes that audiences expect to see in a drama like this. There are plenty of scenes of concerned mother Mari Gilbert yelling at impotent authority figures, countless scenes dictating the indifference or ineptitude of the authority figures tasked with protecting these young women, lots of emotional scenes in which Mari comes to terms with her own imperfections as a mother following her daughter’s disappearance.

However, the most interesting aspects of this “unsolved American mystery” lurk at the edge of the frame, recalling the quiet tweaks that Just Mercy made to the death penalty drama this past awards season. Lost Girls is a serial killer film that is much more interested in systemic injustice than it is in the sensationalist actions of a single monstrous villain. Lost Girls never quite manages to convincingly restructure the serial killer investigation movie template to the extent of something like Zodiac, but perhaps it doesn’t have to. It is more interesting for subtle shifts in emphasis within a familiar formula.

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New Escapist Column! On the Inevitability of a “Knives Out” Sequel…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday, to mark the news that Knives Out would officially be getting a sequel.

To be fair, this news was hardly a surprise given the box office success of the film. With a tiny budget, Knives Out managed to gross over three hundred million dollars worldwide. Even before the sequel was officially announced, it seemed inevitable. And it will most likely be another great time at the cinema. At the same time, though, it’s hard not to feel like the proper way to celebrate the success of Knives Out might not be to start producing Knives Out sequels en masse, but instead to simply make more movies like Knives Out.

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