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New Escapist Video! On “Kong: Skull Island” as a Metaphor for War…

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 the Monday 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 channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

Given that Godzilla vs. Kong is going straight to HBO Max, we thought it might be looking back at Kong: Skull Island. In particular, what made the movie such a delight in contrast to Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Indeed, part of the genius of Skull Island is the way in which it positions its monster as a metaphor similar to that of the Japanese Godzilla, but from a distinctly American perspective.

Non-Review Review: Mosul

Mosul is a frustratingly generic war movie, particularly given its potential as an exploration of Iraq in the wake of the American withdrawal.

Mosul is produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, best known as the directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The pair have leveraged the success of their work with Marvel to produce the work of other filmmakers, including past collaborators. 21 Bridges was a star vehicle for Black Panther leading actor Chadwick Boseman. Extraction starred Thor actor Chris Hemsworth and was directed by stuntman Sam Hargrave who had been Chris Evans’ stunt double on Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Iraqqing up an impressive reputation.

Mosul marks the directorial debut of veteran writer Mathew Michael Carnahan, who collaborated with Adam Mervis on the screenplay for 21 Bridges. Indeed, the Middle Eastern War on Terror framing of Mosul feels like an organic extension of Carnahan’s interests as a writer; his first two screenplay credits were for The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs, both released in 2007. As such, tasking Carnahan with making a boots-on-the-ground war film about the chaos in Iraq following the end of American involvement seems like a perfectly logical choice.

To his credit Carnahan understands the language and the logic of war movies. With its emphasis on handheld footage, Mosul occasionally feels like a spiritual companion to something like Blackhawk Down. With its recurring fascination with the absurdity and insanity of the horror of these sorts of conflicts, Mosul plays an extension of the core themes of Apocalypse Now. Indeed, Carnahan cycles through the conventional tropes and clichés of war movies with thrilling abandon, ensuring a propulsive sense of momentum and movement through the film.

“Mosul, Mo’ Problems.”

At the same time, Mosul feels a little too generic and too conventional. There are only a handful of sequences in the movie that feel like they relate specifically to this context, to the particulars of the war being waged in Iraq against Daesh. Too often, the film feels like it could be any war in any place at any time. It doesn’t help that Mosul positions itself more as an action movie and thriller than as a drama or study. Indeed, there are moments when Mosul feels just a little exploitative, as if attempting to extract pulpy thrills from a crisis that is still unfolding.

That said, Mosul hits most of its marks with enough skill and efficiency that none of these problems ever reach critical mass. Mosul bounces quickly from each set-up to the next, never allowing its audience or its characters the space to dwell on the familiarity of its set-up and execution. Mosul is a tightly constructed war thriller, even if it never fulfills its potential.

Commanding presence.

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Space: Above and Beyond – Pearly (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Richard Whitley is one of the more promising writers on Space: Above and Beyond.

While Pearly does not benefit (and indeed actively suffers) from the same loose structure that made Dear Earth work so well, it is an episode very much in touch with what the show wants to be about. It is very much a science-fiction version of a classic Second World War story, to the point where Whitley himself has described it as an adaptation of the classic Humphrey Bogart movie Sahara. It is a nice glimpse at several facets of the conflict that we have not seen yet, but which make sense in context.

Canned ham...

Canned ham…

That said, there are serious problems with Pearly. It is very clear that the production managed to get ahold of a tank for filming, and sought to capitalise on that. The episode’s structure feels rather forced and unstructured in places, full of contrived coincidences that seem a little strange when considered as a whole. Not all of the character interactions feel genuine, and not all the episode’s big moments feel entirely earned. These are legitimate problems, and they do hold Pearl back.

At the same time, Pearly is an episode simmering with potential and ambition. It is hard to hate.

Crossed wires...

Crossed wires…

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On Second Thought: Apocalypse Now (Redux)

I wrote in my review of the original version of the movie that the two-and-a-half-hour cut captured a great deal of the insanity that seems to have been a defining characteristic of the Vietnam War, with the movie feeling like a crazed surrealist trip into madness, a collection of abstract meditations on the American condition that felt compressed at over two hours. If that is the case, Apocalypse Now Redux captures another aspect of the conflict. It’s now less insane, but the instability and absurdity appear more systemic and endemic. It’s bloated, terrifying, harrowing and seemingly eternal.

Much like the war itself.

Back into the Heart of Darkness...

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Non-Review Review: Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now was what might be described as a “troubled” production. Francis Ford Coppola was never intended to direct the film, which ran into trouble with local weather and local politics, undergoing script changes on a daily basis, an overweight and overpaid Marlon Brando who refused to read either the script or the book it was based on (leading Coppola to read it to him), Dennis Hopper’s drug addiction and countless other factors. Actor Martin Sheen at one point had a massive heart attack and had to walk a quarter of a mile for help, which Coppola had to cover up (claiming he collapsed due to exhaustion and filming with extras and voice doubles) for fear of losing funding. Al Pacino had been considered for the role, but had the foresight to turn it down, with Coppola suggesting, “Al would do the film, if we could film it in his apartment.” If that’s true, he might be the smartest person associated with the production.

I mention this, because I think a significant amount of that trouble seems to feed through the film. There’s a sense that isn’t a safe production, which is somewhat fitting, given the subject matter.

Up the creek...

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Secret Shame: Classic Films We Haven’t Seen…

One of the things about having a blog is the fact it takes a significant amount of self-confidence to publish. I mean, even if you’re just doing it for own sake, it still takes a great deal of faith to put something out there for others to see and read. To be honest, I’m not sure I properly consider myself a “critic” and certainly not an “expert”, at least not in a sense that requires big inverted commas. I don’t like to think that I make statements of cinema, and I hope (perhaps with a hint of arrogance) that I might contribute in some way to some discussion about cinema somewhere. Still, I’m always a little bit embarrassed at all the great films I haven’t seen. I feel like it diminishes me in some way, not even as a blogger or any nonsense like that, but as a film fan.

Getting in deep with my classic movies...

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Non-Review Review: Tropic Thunder

I make no apologies, I love this movie. Though it might not always hit the perfect notes, it maintains Ben Stiller’s pitch-perfect ability to just throw tonnes of stuff at the wall and if even 30% of the jokes hit, you’re at least grinning for the film’s runtime. He also has a fantastic cast full of the talented and the one-note, all of whom are perfectly chosen for the roles that they play within Stiller’s war comedy. Sure, the film may lose focus a bit, and it has a fairly short attention span, but this means that Stiller isn’t afraid to pull away from a gag that isn’t working.

Jungle Fever

Jungle Fever

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