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Non-Review Review: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy is a cocktail essentially comprised of three contrasting main ingredients, none of which particularly gel.

Most obviously, it is a traditional performance-driven piece of awards fare designed to showcase the talents of Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell; there is a lot of shouting, a lot of confrontation, a lot of listless staring. On top of that, it is also a more modern piece of awards fare, one younger and hipper than stodgy old dramas about addiction; Beautiful Boy might be a good seventy-percent intercut montage set to music of beloved artists like David Bowie and John Lennon. The remaining third is a fifties moral panic anti-drugs film for the twenty-first century.

This movie is Timothée Chala-meh.

These three styles of film are constantly battling within Beautiful Boy. There must be a way to synthesise these three competing approaches into a holistic and satisfying piece of work, but instead Beautiful Boy bounces frantically from one mode to another, never settling on a single cohesive tone or approach. This is disappointing, as Beautiful Boy is a very earnest and sincere piece of work. There’s a strong sense that the film is trying to articulate something that is both important and profound. However, it just cannot clearly translate that sentiment into speech.

Beautiful Boy is a mess of a film, but a fascinating mess in a number of places.

Yes. Most of the screenshots of this film will be of Timothée Chalamet. Why?

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Doctor Who: Kerblam! (Review)

Watching Kerblam! makes for a very strange sensation.

As with the earlier stretch of the eleventh season, there is a sense that Chris Chibnall is consciously harking back to the era overseen by Russell T. Davies. This explains the opening present-future-past triptych of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, The Ghost Monument and Rosa. It also accounts for the positioning of Arachnids in the U.K. as an opportunity to spend time in the contemporary United Kingdom for the twin purposes of character development and broad political commentary.

A clean record.

Kerblam! is the kind of futuristic story that Davies would frequently tell early in his own seasons, like New Earth, Gridlock or Planet of the Ood. It might also be reflected in episodes like The Long Game or Midnight. Interestingly, the episode is populated with the sort of politically-coded iconography that defined those stories, iconography that had largely been stripped out of The Ghost Monument in favour of some broad asides about how late-stage capitalism is a destructive rat race without any real depth to them.

Kerblam! is very overtly a story about hypercapitalism, with the eponymous company obviously standing in for Amazon. This is much more overtly political than any subtext that could be read into the season’s other “future” stories like The Ghost Monument or The Tsuranga Conundrum. Following on from episodes like Arachnids in the U.K. and Demons of the Punjab, it seems like Kerblam! might be positioned as bit of biting social commentary, using the broadly drawn science-fiction future in the same way as even Moffat era tales like The Beast Below, Smile or Oxygen.

Doesn’t scan.

On a purely surface level, Kerblam! looks like it might engage with the legacy of the Davies era as more than just a production aesthetic, understanding the potential to use a cartoonish and exaggerated science-fiction framework to slip in some genuinely provocative social commentary for family consumption. One of the great ironies of the Chibnall era has been the narrative that it is “too PC!”, despite the fact that it has actually been surprisingly moderate in its political ambitions. The surface level design of Kerblam! looks like a breath of fresh air in that context.

Unfortunately, the episode takes a number of very sharp swerves and veers crazily off course, featuring the surreal assumption that “the systems aren’t the problem.”

Difficulty Fezzing up to reality.

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“Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films” Available for Pre-Order

I am thrilled to announce my new book, Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films. I announced it at the end of The 250 episode covering Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

I’ve been working on this for more than a year at this point, and am very excited to be able to share. The idea is to present a broad and accessible examination of the iconic director’s first ten films, looking at his work, his craft and his recurring thematic occupations. The goal is to illuminate one of the defining directors of the twenty-first century, a film-maker who has shaped the medium as we understand it today by combining deeply personal narratives with old-fashioned crowd-pleasing storytelling.

The book is currently scheduled for release late in the year, but you can pre-order it now from various online retailers. It’s a book that I’ve worked very hard on, and one that I am very proud of. If you can support it, whether by pre-ordering it or asking your local library to stock it or even just by sharing word about it online, it would mean a great deal to me.

It’s the second book that I’ve written with McFarland Press, who also published my last book Opening the X-Files, which took a look at the work of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen on the era-defining series The X-Files and other related projects. They’ve been incredibly supportive of my work, and were a wonderful collaborator once again. Anyway, thanks again for your time, and I’ll hopefully have some more Nolan-related content on here leading up to the release.

If you want to support the book by pre-ordering it, here are the links to the places where you can purchase it at present:

The After – Pilot (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat, 

By that same God whom thou didst never know,  

So that I may escape this woe and worse, 

 

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,  

That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,  

And those thou makest so disconsolate.”

 

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Devil's in the details...

Devil’s in the details…

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Non-Review Review: Rio 2

Rio 2 is a solidly-constructed sequel. It lacks the emotional heft that has come to distinguish most of the more memorable family films. Instead, it opts for a constant barrage of music and colour to keep the young audience engaged. Nothing ever lingers too long, with a set piece or a musical number sure to kick off within a scene or two. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – Rio 2 is a perfectly enjoyable piece of family film.

At the same time, it never slows itself down (or even tones itself down) long enough for use to invest in the characters. There is always something happening, which means that our characters never seem to catch their breath. Given the movie’s story touches on heavy themes like connecting with one’s roots, cultural identity, and environmentalism, there is a sense that these ideas might work better if given room to breath a bit.

Still, the result is engaging and diverting, if not entirely satisfying.

All the way to Rio...

All the way to Rio…

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Non-Review Review: The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

In many respects, The Creature From the Black Lagoon feels like a brass band funeral for the golden age of the Universal monster movies. The subgenre would continue ticking over for quite some time. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy would be released the following year, The Creature From the Black Lagoon would spawn two sequels for the two years following, and Universal would try a spate of monster movies up until The Leech Woman in 1960. However, it’s clear that – by 1954 – the golden age of the Universal monster movie was well over.

And I think that part of the reason that The Creature From the Black Lagoon works so well is because it’s almost a mournful eulogy for the genre.

Out of the depths…

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