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New Escapist Video! On How “Aliens” Responds to “Alien”…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with every second Monday’s article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film content – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This month, with Aliens celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film. In particular, how James Cameron designed one of the great sequels by refusing to simply repeat what worked about the original Alien. Instead, Aliens works in large part because it actively responds to and engages with Alien, in a way that enriches both films.

New Escapist Column! On James Cameron’s “Aliens” as a Challenge to Ridley Scott’s “Alien”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. James Cameron’s Aliens is thirty-five years old this July, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at one of the best sequels ever made.

Aliens works in large part because it’s smart enough to avoid directly challenging Alien, in that it avoids simply recycling the original formula with a shift in location or with a new cast. Instead, it offers a very different approach to the core material. More than that, James Cameron positions Aliens as a direct challenge to Alien, deliberately and pointedly inverting some of the core themes of the original film. This choice enriches both films, turning Alien and Aliens into a conversation.

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

Non-Review Review: Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead arrives with relatively few expectations.

There’s something very refreshing and very appealing in this, particularly given the way that Snyder has become a cultural flashpoint due to his work on films like Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, not to mention everything involving the production and release (and subsequent restoration) of Justice League. With all of that in the rear view mirror, it is exciting to sit down and watch as Zack Snyder movie that is… just a Zack Snyder movie.

Warding off evil.

Indeed, Army of the Dead is arguably something of a throwback for the director, marking a return to his earliest work. As a hyper-violent zombie action movie with a satirical edge, Army of the Dead invites comparisons to his first feature-length film, his remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. However, Army of the Dead is not a belated sequel or continuation. It is that rare modern big-budget genre film that stands as much on its own as it is possible for a high-concept zombie movie.

Army of the Dead is not a masterpiece by any stretch. It’s a little indulgent and overlong, suffering from the familiar pacing and tonal issues that affect many movies produced by Netflix. However, Army of the Dead is a fun and interesting genre if approached on its own terms. More than anything, freed from the constraints of established properties and shared universes and the ensuing scrutiny, Army of the Dead feels like Snyder is actually having fun. It is hard to begrudge it that.

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231. Mac and Me (-#83)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Niall Glynn and Richard Drumm, 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, Stewart Raffill’s Mac and Me.

Following a move to California, young Eric is feeling a little alienated and disconnected. However, the young boy’s life is quickly turned upside down following a chance encounter with a creature from another world that has a strange hunger for Coca-Cola and Skittles.

At time of recording, it was ranked 83rd on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the “Avatar” as a PG-13 “Aliens”…

I published a new column at The Escapist this evening. With the re-release of Avatar in China this weekend, it seemed like an opportunity to take a look at Jameson Cameron’s blockbuster.

Avatar is often discussed in terms of its relationship to nineties films like Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas and even Fern Gully. However, Avatar is also notable in its similarities to James Cameron’s first proper blockbuster. Avatar often feels like a reworking of Aliens, albeit one aimed at a much broader audience. This is interesting, positioning Avatar as part of a wave of similarly four-quadrant-pleasing reboots and remakes of classic R-rated eighties properties.

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

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #53 (“The Syndicate”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

In some ways, this section of the film is an illustration of how tightly structured Fight the Future is, in terms of communicating exposition and character dynamics to an audience that may not be entirely up to date with the grand mechanics of the X-Files universe. So Fight the Future spends almost exactly a minute with the Well-Manicured Man before throwing him into conflict with the Syndicate. In doing so, it draws a contrast between the two that serves to very clearly define what distinguishes the Well-Manicured Man from his colleagues and partners.

Again, it would be too much to describe the storytelling here as elegant, but it does communicate things like character motivation quite clearly without distracting too heavily from the emotional crux of Fight the Future. Carter and Bowman both understand that the key is to communicate all of this as clearly and as quickly as possible, in order to get back to what is the movie’s real attraction, the movie-star tension between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. However, even with that in mind, the storytelling here is commendably efficient.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! “Ad Astra” and What We Carry with Us…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. This one has been kicking around for a little while, discussing James Gray’s Ad Astra.

In particular, it takes a look at a broader trend in modern space movies – what might be dubbed the “sad astronaut” genre. In contrast to the sixties utopian fantasies of shows like Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey, these films tend to offer a more introspective portrait of space travel. Films like Gravity or Interstellar or First Man are as much about the baggage that the protagonists bring with them on their journey as they are about what the character in question might find out there.

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

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #28!

Here we go again…

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Ronan Doyle for a discussion of the week in film. Topics of discussion include various seasons at the IFI, including both Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as seen during the IFI’s Dark Skies season and a discussion of their looming Orson Welles season. There’s also room to discuss Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash and bad MUBI advertisements. However, the real reason to give it a listen is to hear Jay and Ronan give Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to podcast celebration that it deserves.

New releases include Teen Titans Go! to Movies and Ant Man and the Wasp.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Doctor Who: Oxygen (Review)

Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.

– the Doctor about sums it up

In space, EVERYONE can hear you scream…

Oxygen plays very much like a companion piece to Thin Ice earlier in the season. Both are essentially stories about monstrous capitalism, from nineteenth century London through to the depths of outer space.

Indeed, Oxygen pitches itself as something akin to a late seventies or early eighties science-fiction film, in terms of aesthetic and politics. The episode’s production design recalls the “used future” of films like Star Wars, while the heavy criticism of capitalism invites comparison to films like Alien or Outland. Indeed, Oxygen even borrows from a similar strain of horror movies, tapping into the fear of zombies as the monstrous face of capitalism that can be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.

Station keeping.

Jamie Mathiesen has been one of the most consistently impressive writers of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, turning in impressive scripts for both Mummy on the Orient Express and The Girl Who Died, along with a genuine masterpiece in Flatline. Indeed, Oxygen is the most impressive episode in the stretch of the season, a bold and ambitious piece of allegorical science-fiction, wedded to a genuinely scary concept, top-notch production design, and any number of clever ideas.

Oxygen is a brilliant piece of work, and a reminder of just how effectively Doctor Who can blend its disparate elements into a satisfying whole.

Give him space to work.

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Doctor Who – Knock, Knock (Review)

“That’s what they’re called, Driads?”

“That’s what I’m calling them, yes.”

“You’ve gone crazy.”

“Well, I can’t just call them lice, can I?”

Performance is a bit wooden.

Knock Knock is a solid, if unexceptional, episode of Doctor Who. It occasionally feels more like a grab bag of idea welded together, more than a single cohesive story.

Knock Knock is essentially three very different episodes sutured together in a decidedly haphazard fashion. Knock Knock is, in quick succession: an episode focusing on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS, an old-school haunted house adventure, an intense familial psychodrama with a powerhouse guest performance. There is a strong sense that Knock Knock would work better if it chose to be any two of those three episodes, but that it simply cannot hold itself together trying to satisfy all three masters.

Dial it back, there.

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