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New Escapist Column! On “Poker Face” as a Show About Empathy and Action…

I published a new piece at The Escapist during the week. With the recent release of the first four episodes of Poker Face on Peacock, it seemed like a good opportunity to discuss the show’s central thematic and narrative preoccupations: the importance of both empathy and action in response to injustice.

Poker Face exists as part of Rian Johnson’s filmography, and is an obvious companion piece to Knives Out and Glass Onion. However, it fits alongside those stories in more than just its genre. Johnson is a filmmaker fascinated by the power of empathy, and the importance of understanding other human beings on a personal level. Poker Face is the story of a character so good at listening that she can instinctively spot a lie. However, in this world, empathy is not enough of itself. Poker Face is a show about the need for action in support of empathy.

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

 

New Escapist Column! On “Black Adam” as a Superhero Vanity Project…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. The big release of the week was Black Adam, the superhero blockbuster starring Dwayne Johnson as the eponymous antihero.

Part of what makes Black Adam so fascinating is the sense in which it exists between two very different styles of big budget Hollywood production. Most obviously, it’s a big and bombastic superhero blockbuster, albeit one built around a less well-known character. However, it also feels like an old style of blockbuster. It feels very much like a superhero vanity project for Dwayne Johnson, an effort to tie his star power into its own high-profile intellectual property.

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

277. The Batman – This Just In (#67)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Graham Day and Niall Glynn, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, a new entry: Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

Bruce Wayne is in the second year of his war on crime in Gotham, and things are not improving. Indeed, the city is thrown into anarchy when a new villain calling themselves the Riddler begins targetting city officials and threatening to unmask the city’s darkest secrets. Can Bruce survive what is coming? Can the Batman? Can Gotham?

At time of recording, it was ranked 67th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Peacemaker” and “MacGruber” as Reckonings with Reagan Era Action Heroes…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the recent release of MacGruber and Peacemaker, it seemed like an interesting opportunity to reflect on two comedy streaming shows that are very firmly anchored in a very particular nostalgia for a certain kind of eighties Reagan era action hero.

MacGruber and Peacemaker are essentially extended riffs on a very archetypal form of American heroism, a very militaristic and jingoistic expression of heroism. While both shows are reasonably affectionate and surprisingly sympathetic to its subjects, they are also quite aggressive in their desconstruction of this archetype. Both MacGruber and Peacemaker are shows about characters who are deeply unpleasant and incredibly juvenile, in what feels like an interesting interrogation of the action heroes of the era. It’s an interesting angle on this nostalgia, feeling at times like a tempered reflection.

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

 

256. Breach (Anti-Life) (-#69)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Joe Griffin, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, John Suits’ Breach.

Earth is dying. Mankind’s last hope lies in the stars. On board one of the last colony ships ferrying the handful of survivors to their new world, something inhuman is stirring. The vessel’s maintenance crew find themselves in a battle against an alien entity, with the fate of mankind in the balance.

At time of recording, it was ranked 69th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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253. Catwoman – Batman Day 2021 (-#49)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Billie Jean Doheny and Niall Glynn, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Pitof’s Catwoman.

Patience Phillips is a young woman working as a designer at a cosmetics company. One evening, while working late, Patience hears something she shouldn’t. Hunted by her employer’s security staff, Patience is left for dead and washed away like the trash. However, her would-be murderers are about to discover that Patience has never been more alive.

At time of recording, it was ranked 49th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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229. Mad Max: Fury Road (#206)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and Deirdre Molumby, 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, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

Through the ruin of the world stalks the ruin of the man. In a world that has descended into anarchy and chaos, a lone nomad finds himself embroiled in a brutal chase sequence across the wasteland. However, the characters quickly discover that the past is the one thing that they can’t outrun.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 206th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Article! On the Hidden World of “John Wick”…

I was thrilled to contribute to the latest issue of Pretty Deadly Films, the new online film magazine being published by Film in Dublin. This third edition of the magazine is dedicated to John Wick, so I thought it might be interesting to look at the hidden world of John Wick.

In some ways, John Wick positions itself as a successor to The Matrix. It is directed by two stuntmen who worked on the series and stars Keanu Reeves. Laurence Fishburne joined the ensemble in the second film. It is also a film about hidden subcultures and secret worlds, which positions it as a successor to similar films from the late nineties in which the real world is an illusion – Dark City, The Truman Show, The Thirteenth Floor. However, what distinguishes the hidden world of John Wick from those earlier films is a profound cynicism. To know the truth is to be trapped by it.

You can read the issue here, browse back issues of the magazine here or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Charlie’s Angels is a fascinating tonal mess. It doesn’t work at all, but the ways in which it doesn’t work are fascinating.

Charlie’s Angels feels like something of a hybrid. It combines several different styles of blockbuster into a single film. It pitches itself as a campy and goofy stupid 1990s blockbuster, but inflected with a veneer of 2000s self-seriousness and filtered through the lens of 2010s ironic self-awareness. However, these elements do not compliment one another, and Charlie’s Angels is never particularly interested in either smoothing over the gaps or exploring the dissonance. The result is an aesthetic that is probably best described as “comedically sociopathic.

Three of a kind.

It’s a shame, because there is some interesting stuff here. Writer and director Elizabeth Banks plays with ideas like the female gaze, and trying to reappropriate the franchise’s iconography and history for the twenty-first century. However, Charlie’s Angels lacks the clean focus that is necessary for a project like this to work, it cannot even figure out whether it wants to be a ground-up rebuild of the classic model or a nostalgic tweak upon it, and so seems to wander the gulf between those two extremes.

Charlie’s Angels is a strangely lifeless blockbuster, for a film that tries to cram so much in.

Solid as a rock?

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Non-Review Review: Gemini Man

Gemini Man is a weird and unashamed nineties action movie throwback, for both better and worse.

This is baked into the film. The poster capitalises on the star power that drives the film. Alluding to the clone drama that drives so much of the plot, the poster to Gemini Man credits lead actor Will Smith twice above the line. In an era where the very concept of the movie star is trapped in a seemingly terminal decline, Gemini Man literally doubles down on its star branding. More than that, there is something surreal in the choice of Will Smith as that leading man, an actor whose career is largely defined by nineties hits like Enemy of the State, Men in Black or Bad Boys and whose career has floundered in recent years.

Face to Face/Off.

Gemini Man leans into this nostalgia. The film’s central hook lies in confronting Will Smith with a younger version of himself. Will Smith plays retiring assassin Henry Brogen, who finds himself hunted by a much younger version of himself. De-aged into the uncanny valley, the younger version of Will Smith consciously evokes the actor’s golden age. The film is set in 2019, but the computer-augmented action star feels lost in time; even his hairstyle and facial hair recall the actor’s appearance in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air rather than anything that might suggest a young man growing up in the twenty-first century.

While there’s a lot to unpack in the film, there’s also something disappointingly lifeless about Gemini Man. One of the film’s big action beats take place in a creepy catacomb, in what feels like an encapsulation of the film. Gemini Man never seems truly alive, instead feeling like a facsimile of another, older style of blockbuster.

Out of scope.

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