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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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Star Trek: Voyager – Q2 (Review)

Q2 is an episode very much in keeping with the ethos of Star Trek: Voyager, particularly at this point in its run.

It isn’t just the strange nostalgia that permeates the episode, opening with an extended oral presentation from Icheb on the heroic exploits of James Tiberius Kirk from the original Star Trek and extending through to the unnecessary return of a beloved recurring guest character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nor is it the awkwardness with which Q2 affects a half-hearted compromise in its final act, with the series paying lip service to the fact that its omnipotent (and mostly friendly) guest star could get the crew home with a click of his fingers, while refusing to do that because it would break the series.

“Q2 ratings are way up!”

The essential Voyager-ness at the heart of Q2 is much more profound than all of that. It has to do with how the series treats is returning guest star. Q has been a part of the Star Trek universe dating back to Encounter at Farpoint. John de Lancie has been a recurring guest star on the franchise for thirteen-and-a-half years. Although de Lancie has aged relatively well, and although suspension of belief easily allows for it, even Q himself seems much older between his first and last appearances in the television franchise.

However, Q2 takes a character who was introduced as an immortal and all-powerful trickster god in The Next Generation, and transform him into a stressed middle-aged parent by the end of Voyager. This is a very Voyager approach to characterisation and development. It is how the series has approach many of its characters. In Caretaker, Chakotay was a rebel, Paris as a rogue, and Neelix was a free-wheeling trader; within the show’s first season, all of those rough edges have been filed off. The decision to do that with a character who is effectively a trickster god speaks a lot to the central philosophy of Voyager.

Not kidding around.

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119. Race 3 (-#28)

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

This time, Remo D’Souza’s Race 3.

They’re going back to the ra-aaa-ce. Caught in a violent gang war between two rival arms dealers, Sikander Singh must navigate a web of betrayal to find the truth and to see that justice is done. It’s about family.

At time of recording, it was ranked 28th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the worst movies of all-time.

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My 12 for ’18: Holding Out for a Hero in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number ten.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout was released around the tenth anniversary of The Dark Knight.

In fact, the week after I caught the preview of Fallout, I attended a tenth anniversary screening of The Dark Knight. This is important, because Christopher McQuarrie’s second Mission: Impossible film undeniably exists in conversation with Christopher Nolan’s epoch-defining blockbuster. It is impossible to watch Fallout without thinking of The Dark Knight, from Lorne Balfe’s propulsive score to the sight of an armoured truck sinking slowly into a river.

However, McQuarrie does something interesting with Fallout, in relation to The Dark Knight. Too many of the films influenced by that iconic piece of cinema opted for shallow and superficial homage. Thor: The Dark World and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Transformers: The Last Knight settled for borrowing influence from the title. Law Abiding Citizen tried to embrace moral ambiguity. Man of Steel attempted to emulate that serious grounded approach to other properties.

In contrast, Fallout understands that the best thing that most films could learn from The Dark Knight is simple craft and professionalism. Fallout understands that top-notch production, an emphasis on in-camera effects and a propulsive sense of momentum are the most applicable lessons that most films could take from The Dark Knight. As such, Fallout takes those lessons and applies to them to Mission: Impossible, leading to the year’s most impressive embrace of the concept of heroism.

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94. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (#166) – This Just In

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Graham Day and Luke Dunne, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 166th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Skyscraper

Hollywood never really gives up on a genre that it loves, even when it might appear that the audience has moved on.

The perpetual reinvention of the western is one example, a genre that is constantly updated in terms of style and substance to reflect the times. The western has been reinvented and reimagined countless times over the past few decades, whether by combining it with other genres or by examining its underlying assumptions. The western survives in movies like The Hateful EightThe RevenantBone Tomahawk; films that are very clearly westerns even if audiences from the genre’s peak would struggle to recognise them.

Hanging on in there.

Disaster films are another example of Hollywood’s perpetual reinvention of a genre that has fallen out of style. While by no means as ubiquitous as they once were, disaster films still pop up from time to time. The attempts to update the disaster film often take the form of hybridisation, of tying the trappings of the genre into a more marketable template. In the nineties, Independence Day cleverly wed the disaster movie to an alien invasion narrative. More recently, Patriots’ Day tied the structure and rhythms of the disaster movie into a counter-terrorism epic.

Skyscraper hits upon what might be the ultimate genre fusion for the disaster movie template. At the very least, it feels like an inevitable hybrid in the modern cinematic climate. At its core, Skyscraper essentially asks… “what if a disaster movie, but also a superhero film?

The bed Rock of a stable marriage.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Manoeuvres (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

It is weird to think that the much-maligned Kazon provided perhaps the closest thing that Star Trek: Voyager had to a long-form story arc.

That probably says more about Voyager than it does about the Kazon. In storytelling terms, Voyager was firmly episodic. There were some loose threads that would span and connect multiple episodes, but the bulk of the show was comprised of very traditional “done in one” adventures. It seems fair to observe that Voyager represented something of a backslide for the franchise. It was much more episodic than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also less interested in long-form storytelling than the later years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!"

“This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!”

One suspects that the Kazon arc running through the second season had something to do with this storytelling choice. Michael Piller pushed really hard to make the Kazon a recurring threat to Voyager and to place them at the centre of the second season. As a result, they become a loose thread that runs through several of the season’s “big” episodes. They place a traitor on board Voyager in Alliances. They provided Tom Paris with a character arc culminating in Investigations. They provided the season-ending cliffhanger in Basics, Part I.

The arc was not well-received, whether by the fans or by the staff. It is not too difficult to understand why. Even before considering the quality of the arc itself – or the storytelling involved – the Kazon are hardly the most compelling Star Trek villains. Allowing for that, it seemed like the writing staff had no real idea how to serialise a story arc across a season, making all manner of clumsy mistakes along the way. The arc never gathered momentum and it never paid off, which are very real problems when trying something that ambitious.

Either you Kazon... or you be gone...

Either you Kazon… or you be gone…

Manoeuvres effectively kicks off the arc. Although the Kazon had appeared in Initiations earlier in the second season, Manoeuvres features the first reappearance of Seska and Cullah since State of Flux midway through the first season. The episode is perhaps the strongest of the “Kazon” shows, with a sense of momentum driving the first half of the script. However, things rather quickly come off the rails in the second half of the story. Already, the production team’s inexperience with serialised storytelling is showing.

Manoeuvres is perhaps as good as the Kazon ever got. It is nowhere near good enough.

So that's why they call them raiders...

So that’s why they call them raiders…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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