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New Escapist Column! On Understanding “Twin Peaks” Emotionally, Rather than Intellectually…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. With the thirtieth anniversary of Twin Peaks, I got to talk a little bit about the show and David Lynch.

Lynch has a reputation as a “difficult” artist for audiences, a filmmaker whose art is challenging and provocative. It’s easy to see why. On a simple mechanical level, it can be very difficult to explain what happens during a David Lynch film or television show. More to the point, two different audience members might provide two very different descriptions. However, that’s always been what I admired about Lynch. As a critic, he forces me to engage emotionally with his work because an intellectual understanding is never enough. I feel Lynch’s work, even if I don’t comprehend it.

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

Non-Review Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch is bizarre misfire, lurking somewhere within the uncanny valley of prestige awards fare.

The film looks just enough like a standard end-of-year prestige piece to convince at a distance. John Crowley knows how to frame a shot and how to edit a sequence, particularly when setting it to music. The production values are impressive. The presence of actors like Jeffrey Wright or Nicole Kidman help to sell the illusion. The film itself is built around a variety of familiar awards-friendly tropes, charting the struggles of an orphan who drifts through the social strata twenty-first century American while struggling with his emotions and his drug addiction.

The Goldfinch is decidedly artless.

However, there’s also just enough wrong with The Goldfinch to push it into some weird liminal space. No three members of the cast seem to believe that they are in the same movie. The film decides to spend two hours as a reflective mood piece, before cramming a fairly generic thriller into the next twenty minutes, and wraps up by having a secondary character explain an ending that happened entirely off-screen. Large passages of the movie consist of time-lapse montages of characters staring into middle distance as overwrought monologues discuss concepts of grief and guilt.

Most of The Goldfinch is dull and lifeless, but there are moments when the film swerves wildly into surreality. Those moments aren’t necessarily good, but they are at least more interesting than the hollow prestige trappings that surround them.

I sense a laboured metaphor.

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Escapist Column! “Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance” as an Ode to Craft…

And it’s time for another In the Frame column from Escapist Magazine.

This one is taking a look at the recent Netflix streaming series Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance, skillfully and beautifully created the Jim Henson workshop. It’s a fascinating series, in large part because so much of its appeal goes beyond the (relatively simple) story being told. So I took a look at The Age of Resistance as a technical showcase, a celebration of the artistry involve.

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

The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #10 – More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man

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.

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is certainly an ambitious story.

As the title suggests, writer Joe Harris and artist menton3 position this one-shot as a spiritual sequel to Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, the controversial fourth season episode written by Glen Morgan and directed by James Wong. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man offered a window into the past of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, a possible glimpse of who he had been and how he had come to be. It was also one of the most consciously stylised and ambiguous episodes in the entire nine-year run of the show.

Wheels within wheels.

Wheels within wheels.

Writing a spiritual sequel to that classic episode is a bold decision from the creative team. As with a lot of the big creative decisions concerning The X-Files: Season 10, More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man seems too focused on the past. There is a sense that the monthly series is a little too beholden to what came before, too rooted in continuity, too dedicated to revisiting the iconography of the series. Writing a single-issue standalone story positioned as a sequel to on of the most unique episodes of the original run only emphasises this unease.

And, yet, in spite of these legitimate concerns, More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man works reasonably well. It is indulgent and obsessive, but it is also rich and mysterious. It is disjointed and uneven, but that feels like the point. In keeping with the spirit of Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, it feels like More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is a reflection on the comic book itself. This is a comic book contemplating its own identity and purpose, even as it finds itself being made redundant.

X marks the spot.

X marks the spot.

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Non-Review Review: Shoulder the Lion

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

Shoulder the Lion is a visual sumptuous documentary from the creative team of Erinnisse and Patryk Rebisz.

The duo have a long history behind the scenes. Patryk is an accomplished cinematographer and Erinnisse is a veteran editor. However, barring a short film written and produced by Patryk a decade ago, Shoulder the Lion is the first time that the duo have taken complete charge of a film. The result is visually stunning. Shoulder the Lion is a documentary that divides its focus among three subjects – each dealing with a debilitating condition. However, the key is in how Shoulder the Lion attempts to relate to its subjects.


Shoulder the Lion attempts to convey to the audience – visually and aurally – what it must be like to see the world through the perspective of its three subjects. There are any number of striking compositions and sequences in the film, as the Rebiszes invite the audience to experience even some small segment of what day-to-day life must be like for its three central individuals. As Alice Wingwall describes her deteriorating vision, the camera filters out the colours. As Fergal Sharpe describes the agony of tinnitus, a painful electronic buzz builds.

There are structural problems with Shoulder the Lion. Most obviously, the fact that it divides its attention between three subjects while devoting so much energy towards its visuals means that not all of the three central figures emerge fully-formed. Indeed, it could be argued that the film expends more time trying to replicate their disabilities than exploring their experiences beyond that. However, the result is a thought-provoking and well-constructed piece of film. It is a beautiful piece of work, if not quite as deep as it might have been.


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Non-Review Review: Whiplash

The joy of Whiplash is in how the film subverts so many of the conventions of the “unconventional teacher pushes promising young student” subgenre. A one-sentence plot summary for the film suggest an inspirational and life-affirming tale. Andrew heads to a prestigious music school to hone his skills on the drums, and encounters an obnoxious and confrontational teacher who pushed him to his limits. One can already hear the applause, see the inevitable hug, feel the radiating mutual respect.

Whiplash carefully and meticulously subverts these expectations, avoiding many of the familiar plot beats that one might expect from a story like this. There’s a raw, gruelling honesty to the story – Whiplash is not a story calibrated or tailored to make the audience feel particularly comfortable or happy. Indeed, it addresses its central themes with a refreshing candidness. It asks some very tough questions about honing talent and the responsibilities of a teacher. It doesn’t offer any easy answers.

Anchored in two compelling central performances and a beautiful soundtrack, Whiplash builds to a beautifully cathartic climax, one that refuses to wrap too tight a bow around an intriguing little film.

Stick around...

Stick around…

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Non-Review Review: Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is a stunningly beautiful naturalistic period piece. It is a little messy and unfocused, indulgent and uneven, but such is life itself. Covering the life of J.M.W. Turner, Leigh takes an expansive look at the life of one of Britain’s most distinctive and influential painters. Mr. Turner is perhaps a little over-long and meandering, and occasionally just a little bit too sly for its own good, but it does feature a charmingly larger-than-life performance from Timothy Spall and fantastic cinematography from Dick Pope.

Portrait of the artist as Timothy Spall...

Portrait of the artist as Timothy Spall…

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Rick Remender’s Venom (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Venom demonstrates Rick Remender’s talent with nineties comic concepts. Like Remender’s work on Uncanny X-Force, there’s a sense that the author is taking a dysfunctional and somewhat outdated comic book concept and finding a way to make it work. Uncanny X-Force is the best use of the “X-Force” concept ever put on paper, and Remender’s Venom stands out as the best work to feature the Spider-Man baddie as a protagonist.

Venom doesn’t work quite as well as Uncanny X-Force. The run is a bit shorter and less well developed, and gets caught in a couple of crossovers that split focus a little. Still, the twenty-odd-issue run is a fascinating piece of work from Remender, who was one of Marvel’s most promising emerging talents at the time. Like Uncanny X-Force, it is fundamentally a story about fathers and sons. However Venom also feels like an examination of also-rans, a look at those characters who tend to get a little lost in the crossfire.

Can he swing from a web?

Can he swing from a web?

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe originally aired in 2011.

I don’t understand. Is this place real, or is it fairyland?

Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily.

Fairyland looks completely different.

– Lilly and the Doctor get their geography straightened out

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is, like A Christmas Carol before it, a rather wonderful idea. A Christmas Carol mashed up Doctor Who with one of the best-loved Christmas narratives of all time. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe does something similar, substituting CS Lewis for Charles Dickens. It’s a fantastic idea, given that Doctor Who is the spiritual successor of that peculiarly British thread of childhood fantasy.

The only real problem with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is that it can’t quite stretch that good idea across an hour of television.

On the run again...

On the run again…

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Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Christmas Invasion originally aired in 2005.

Oh, that’s rude. That’s the sort of man I am now, am I? Rude. Rude and not ginger.

– the Doctor

Part of what’s remarkable about The Christmas Invasion is that it’s a great big important episode. Not only is it the first Doctor Who Christmas Special, the beginning of a BBC institution, it’s also the first full-length adventure to feature David Tennant in the title role, and so it comes with a lot of expectations. Whereas most of Davies’ Christmas Specials tended to be relatively light fare – enjoyable run-arounds aimed rather squarely at the kind of people who didn’t tune into the show week-in and week-out – The Christmas Invasion is a pretty big deal.

It’s a vitally important part of Davies’ Doctor Who, and one that really lays out a general blue print for where he wants to take the series over the next few years. The fact that so much of this winds up tying back into the final story of the Davies era – The End of Time – is quite striking on re-watch.

Song for Ten(nant)...

Song for Ten(nant)…

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