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New Escapist Column! On “Strange Worlds” as a Love Letter to Disney’s Forgotten “Boys’ Own” Adventures…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. With the release of Strange World, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the latest animated film from Disney.

Many of the more recent high-profile Disney animated films have been anchored in the brand’s “princess” iconography, feeling like extensions of classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Part of what is interesting about Strange World is that it is a movie rooted in another, rather under-explored, chapter in the history of Disney’s animated filmmaking. Strange World is best understood as an extension of the wave of oft-forgotten “Adventureland” movies of the turn of the millennium, those movies aimed more overtly at boys, like Tarzan, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and How the MCU Grew Up With Its Audience…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier this week. With the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the end of Phase 4, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at one of the more interesting trends within the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe: the way that it has grown up with its audience.

The audience that went to see Iron Man fourteen years ago are no longer teenagers, or even young adults. They are now adults, many of whom will have settled down and started families. It is entirely possible that a couple who went to see The Incredible Hulk on their first date ended up taking their child to Thor: Love and Thunder. One of the more interesting aspects of the modern MCU has been the way that its plotting and themes have evolved to reflect that, with many of its once roguish heroes becoming biological or surrogate parents.

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

272. Dersu Uzala (#156)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Chris Lavery 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, Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala.

On a routine survey mission into the Russian wilderness, Captain Arsenyev comes a cross a local tracker and hunter named Dersu Uzala. Dersu agrees to guide the expedition on their journey through the forest. An unlikely bond is forged between Arsenyev and Dersu, as civilisation begins its encroachment into this previously isolated space.

At time of recording, it was ranked 156th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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265. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (#10)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guests Andy Melhuish, Deirdre Molumby and Grace Duffy, 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 second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, to mark the 20th anniversary of its release, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. It began with the forging of the Great Rings.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 10th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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251. Up (#123)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week with special guests Deirdre Molumby and Brian Lloyd, 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, marking the passing of Ed Asner, Pete Docter’s Up.

Carl Fredricksen is a widower who finds himself facing the end of a modest life in the small house that he once shared with the love of his life. When it looks like what little remains of that life migth be disturbed and destroyed, Carl decides to embark on the one last adventure that he never got to take with his beloved life: a trip to mysterious “Paradise Falls”, without leaving his home.

At time of recording, it was ranked 123rd on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“Anything Goes!” The Curious, Qualified Appeal of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”…

This August, the podcast that I co-host, The 250, is doing a season looking at all four Indiana Jones films as part of our “Indiana Summer.” This week, we’re looking at Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and I had some thoughts on the film.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom occupies an interesting space in the cultural consciousness.

Released as a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the film was generally considered something of a disappointment. Despite a higher profile and a higher budget, the film grossed slightly less than its direct predecessor. The reviews were generally unkind. People Magazine decried the movie as “an astonishing violation of the trust people have in Spielberg and Lucas’ essentially good-natured approach to movies intended primarily for kids.”

A bridge too far?

Many of those involved with the film seem to have accepted this criticism and taken it to heart. Kate Capshaw quipped that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom only really endured because it was packaged as part of trilogy re-releases, joking, “Thank goodness it’s a three-pack, or we wouldn’t have made the cut.” Spielberg was already apologising for the movie in the pre-release publicity for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, admitting, “I wasn’t happy with the second film at all.”

To be clear, there are a lot of valid criticisms of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It would almost be a cheat to concede that the film “has not aged well”, as that would imply that its portrayal of the Indian subcontinent was not horribly dated on its initial release in the mid-eighties. However, accepting and allowing for these very real problems, there is still something interesting and engaging about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s not a movie that is appealing in spite of its darkness, but one that is appealing precisely because of it.

Fortune and glory.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a messy and brutal movie. It’s angry and it’s unpleasant. However, it is interesting for precisely that reason. It stood out in the context of Steven Spielberg’s career at the time because Spielberg had cultivated an image of himself as a wholesome and wondrous filmmaker. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom marks the first real challenge to that image, perhaps paving the way for the director’s later forays into darkness and cynicism with movies like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Munich and more.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom feels like the work of Steven Spielberg at his most unguarded, cutting completely loose and working through a lot of stuff. It’s a very candid and very explicit film, lacking a lot of the polish and the cleanliness of Spielberg’s other major works from around this time. That’s what makes it such a fascinating artifact.

“Why did it have to be snakes?”

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Non-Review Review: Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise is a throwback to a throwback to a throwback.

Jungle Cruise is inspired by the eponymous theme park ride, a surprisingly common occurrence in the age of intellectual-property-derived blockbusters, and an approach that has led to films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and The Haunted Mansion. However, because even narrative-driven theme park rides don’t necessarily provide enough story to sustain a feature-length film, Jungle Cruise positions itself as a very deliberate homage to movies like The Mummy, and traces that lineage back to classic eighties adventures like King Solomon’s Mines, Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Cruise Control.

There’s an undeniable charm in this. After all, that adventure movie template can trace its roots back to movies like The African Queen and even into classic screwball comedies. It is a narrative framework that lends itself to charismatic movie star performances, and so it makes sense that Jungle Cruise features two genuinely engaging movie stars at its core: Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Jungle Cruise is at its strongest when it is willing to trust its leads to do what they do best, to be fun and charming while having exotic adventures together.

Unfortunately, Jungle Cruise feels too beholden to the conventions of modern blockbuster storytelling to lean into its stronger elements. Instead, those aspects of the films are constantly at war with the demands and the limitations of a modern spectacle-driven blockbuster. At times, Jungle Cruise feels more like a faded map promising a path to precious treasure. The broad outline is clear, but the richer detail has been lost to time.

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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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Non-Review Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon offers a reminder of just how quietly and efficiently Disney have managed their animated properties.

For a while at the turn of the millennium, the company seemed to struggle to defines its place among younger and hungrier animation studios like Pixar or Dreamworks. The company responded with a push away from the princess-centric movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan that had anchored their renaissance-era output, pivoting sharply: first to animated movies aimed at boys like Atlantis and Treasure Planet, and then to computer-animated adventures like Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt.

Raya hope?

However, towards the end of the decade, the company arguably found its feet again, with a wave of somewhat traditionalist stories. The Princess and the Frog is often treated as the end of an era of hand-drawn animation, but it also marked a rejuvenation of the classic “princess” movie. It was followed by Tangled, Frozen, Moana and Frozen II, all of which were computer-animated takes on a familiar Disney archetype.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a reminder of just how sturdy that old “princess” movie template is, demonstrating the hard work that the company has put in to keep its oldest archetype both resonant and recognisable.

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“It Will Always Be Broken!” The Strange Melancholy of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, has been running a season of coverage of director Martin Scorsese. Last weekend, we discussed Scorsese’s Hugo. It’s a fun, broad discussion. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about the film’s strange melancholy.

Martin Scorsese is a more complex and nuanced filmmaker than a casual glimpse at his filmography might suggest.

The clichéd depiction of Scorsese is largely shaped and defined by his most popular movies: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, CasinoGangs of New York, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall StreetThe Irishman. Based on these films, there is a tendency to pigeonhole Scorsese as a director who makes violent films about violent men, usually filtered through the lens of the seedy underbelly of organised crime or urban decay. This does not quite capture the breadth and the scope of Scorsese’s interests.

Indeed, Scorsese is a much more interesting filmmaker than that list of classics might suggest, reflected in films as diverse as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, New York, New York, The Last Waltz, After Hours, The Colour of Money, Age of InnocenceThe Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun and The Aviator. However, even allowing for that range, Hugo stands out as an oddity in Scorsese’s filmography. The film was something of a flop when it was released opposite The Muppets, and is often glossed over in accounts of Scorsese’s career and history.

This is shame. Hugo suffers slightly from arriving in the midst of a late career renaissance for Scorsese that includes some of the best and most successful films that the director ever produced: The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman. In the context of that body of work, Hugo is often overlooked. This is a shame, as it’s a magical and wonderful film. It manages to be a children’s film as only Martin Scorsese could produce, suffused with a melancholy and introspection that is rare in the genre.

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