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New Escapist Video! “The Tomorrow War – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of The Tomorrow War, which is streaming on Amazon Prime this weekend.

Non-Review Review: The Tomorrow War

The Tomorrow War is a mess of a movie.

Rumour has it that Amazon paid $200m to acquire the movie from Paramount Pictures, which has taken the pandemic as an excuse to offload films like The Lovebirds, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Coming 2 America. Blockbuster cinema is still something of a siren call for streaming services, with Paramount famously able to entice Netflix into buying The Cloverfield Paradox as a big post-Superbowl release. However, it’s notable that most major studios would be reluctant to part with a surefire financial hit.

“We need to have grown up conversation about how many deaths are acceptable in an alien invasion.”

The Tomorrow War feels very much like a streaming era blockbuster, something to fire up on television rather than to enjoy in cinemas, something that might be justified as a perk that comes with all the free shipping rather than a movie that is worth the audience’s time and attention (and the price of a ticket) on its own merits. The Tomorrow War is a clumsy misfire of a movie, essentially three different movies awkwardly stitched together with a bloated runtime and no internal coherence.

This would be a problem if any of the individual three movies were good. It’s somehow worse for the fact that all three are awful and are worse in combination.

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New Escapist Column! On “Invincible” and the Future of Superheroic Storytelling

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of the first three episodes of Invincible on Amazon Prime on Friday, I thought it was worth taking a look at what the new show means.

Invincible makes a big step forward for Amazon. As Warners and Disney continue consolidating their superhero content under their established brands, other studios are going to have to find ways to compete in the superhero content wars. Invincible is a fascinating testcase: a lavish adult-skewing hour-long animated series that aims to deliver superhero spectacle with a character largely unknown to the larger public. If the chow can make an impact, it bodes well for studios without their in-house intellectual property farms.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “The Expanse” is the Science-Fiction Show for the Moment…

I published a new column at The Escapist this evening. Since I binged The Expanse and since the season finale is out this week, I figured it was worth taking a look at the show as one of the defining television series of the past ten years.

Every generation gets a science-fiction show that reflects its particular anxieties. The Expanse is a show that engages aggressively with the concerns of the moment. It is a show about fragmentation, about nationalism, about inequality, about exploitation and about power. In the same way that Star Trek spoke to the uncertainty and tumult of the sixties, and Battlestar Galactica spoke to the nightmare of the War on Terror, The Expanse resonates with a world still coming to terms with the aftermath of the Great Recession.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and How “Borat” Has Changed Over 14 Years…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm last week, it seemed an interesting opportunity to take a look at the return of the Kazakh caricature, and examine how the character had shifted in the fourteen years since the release of Borat.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is the way in which it offers a much more conventional structure – and even character arc – than the original film. It’s a strange choice, particularly in the context of the film’s mockumentary sensibility and the outlandish nature of the character. However, it also illustrates how much the world has changed since the release of the original film. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm realises that the world has changed, so maybe Borat should as well.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Charming Crassness of “The Boys”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the second season of The Boys releasing on Amazon Prime, it seemed worth a look.

The Boys is not a subtle television show. There is little ambiguity or nuance in its cartoonish portrayal of a world dominated by superheroes defined by their selfishness, vindictiveness and childishness. However, this lack of subtlety is not necessarily a weakness. The Boys is outlandish to the point of being crass, but that’s part of the appeal. These are crass and vulgar times, and so it seems reasonable to filter the superhero genre through that sensibility. The age of prestige television is over, but then there is nothing especially prestigious about this moment.

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

Non-Review Review: The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night is a loving fifties homage, with more than a few contemporary resonances.

The film is structured so as to evoke pulpy science-fiction, opening on a slow push in on an old black-and-white television set airing Paradox Theatre, a show clearly designed to evoke the various fantastical anthology shows modelled after The Twilight Zone. Director Andrew Patterson keeps reminding audiences of this framing device, occasionally pushing out of his narrative on to the grainy distorted television screen and even occasionally cutting to black to underscore the fact that the narrative the audience is watching is being controlled.

Zero to fifties in only ninety minutes!

The premise of The Vast of Night is remarkably straightforward. One summer evening late in the fifties, something strange happens in a New Mexico town. As the bulk of the town gathers for a big basket ball game, only a handful of residents remain at home. Fay dutifully mans the town switchboard, while the charming DJ Everett handles the radio broadcast for the benefit of “the five of you out there listening.” However, his radio show is briefly interrupted by a strange noise, sparking an investigation that leads to somewhere very strange indeed.

The Vast of Night doesn’t really have too many surprises. After all, the basic premise all but suggests an inevitable conclusion: what could possibly be causing strange signals in New Mexico in the late fifties? However, The Vast of Night is elevated by a number of key factors. Patterson brings a very confident and assured direction to the story, making The Vast of Night a very compelling watch given its relatively low budget and tight focus.

Radio gaga.

However, writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger deserve a great deal of credit for the script. The Vast of Night is a film that takes great pleasure in the trappings of its late fifties setting, and is keenly aware of the context in which its characters operate. “I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the communist party,” Fay jokingly records into a microphone early in the film, while later events include accounts of the horror of radiation. The Vast of Night is a loving homage to the era in which it is set.

However, more than that, The Vast of Night understands the strange tethers that tie that idealised past to the more complicate present. By its nature, The Vast of Night is a film about hearing and listening. More than that, though, it is a story about the choices that people make in what they choose to hear and who they choose to listen to. It is a film about conversation, about signal, about noise, about cross talk, and about decay. The Vast of Night is a story about the breakdown of communication, and the horrors that unfold in what society tunes out as white noise.

Interview to a kill.

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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: