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New Escapist Column! On “Severance” and the Work/Life Imbalance…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the season finale of Severance last week, it seemed like an opportunity to take a look at one of the most interesting new shows on television.

Severance is a science-fiction show build around the fictional concept of “severance”, a medical procedure that allows a person to completely separate their professional and personal selves. However, beneath this high concept, Severance plays as a metaphor for a lot of the current anxieties about the work/life balance, and the intrusion of private enterprise into personal lifestyles.

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

Non-Review Review: House of Gucci

At its core, House of Gucci is the story of how the handbag is made.

Trying to convince his nephew Maurizio to take the reigns on the family business, Aldo Gucci explains that the cows that provide the leather for the company’s products are part of a long dynasty. Much like Aldo and his brother Rodolfo inherited the company from their own father Guccio Gucci, these cows are the direct descendents of the animals upon which the brand was established. To Aldo, Gucci is a fmaily business, right down to the cows that are fattened for slaughter. Aldo insists that the cows deserve praise for what they have given their owners. However, the cows still inevitably get skinned.

Where there’s smoke…

House of Gucci returns time and again to this animal imagery. “Gucci is a rare animal,” Domenico De Sole warns Patrizia Reggiani at one point, as the family consider how best to maintain the brand. “It must be protected.” It’s no coincidence that, towards the climax of the movie, the investors debating the future of the family’s ownership of the brand enjoy delicious cuts of steak. It’s rare, of course, the blood visible as they cut into it. The imagery is hardly subtle. Perhaps Aldo and his family have more in common with the cows than they’d like to acknowledge.

House of Gucci feels like something of a companion piece to two other recent Ridley Scott films, The Counsellor and All the Money in the World. Both feel like extrapolations of themes that have bubbled across the director’s filmography, from his earliest work on movies like Alien and Blade Runner. They are cautionary tales about the terrible things that people will do to one another for money, shaped by the ironic understanding that even after all these terrible things are done, nobody really wins. House of Gucci is not a particularly subtle movie, but it doesn’t need to be.

Glass act.

House of Gucci is similar to The Counsellor and All the Money in the World in other ways, as a movie that feels significantly less than the sum of its parts. Then again, what parts they are. House of Gucci doesn’t really hang together cohesively as a movie, often feeling like several smaller movies wrestling for control of the narrative. Every major member of the cast feels like they are the star of their own movie, but not necessarily an essential part of this movie. House of Gucci puts Howard Hawks’ “three great scenes” hypothesis to the test, compiling a number of compelling individual scenes that rarely add to something greater.

House of Gucci is an interesting, disjointed, uneven but strangely compelling study of what wealth does to people – particularly when it no longer needs them.

A familiar ring to it.

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259. Alien – Halloween 2021 (#52)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Doctor Bernice Murphy and Joey Keogh, 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, a Halloween treat: Ridley Scott’s Alien.

A mysterious signal from deep space awakens the crew of the shipping vessel Nostromo. Following standing orders to respond, the crew find themselves drawn to a hostile and barren world. They track the signal to the wreckage of a strange and mysterious craft. However, there might just be something sinister stirring deep within that wreckage.

At time of recording, it was ranked 52nd on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On The Enduring Appeal of “Marvel Zombies”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. With the release of What If… Zombies!?, What If…? finally brought the Marvel Zombies into the larger continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Marvel Zombies are an interesting piece of Marvel Comics lore, essentially imagining a world where all the superheroes have been transformed into flesh-eating monsters. While these sorts of alternate universe stories are common enough in comic books, Marvel Zombies have endured much longer than the zombie movie revival that likely inspired them. So why did the Marvel Zombies catch on? Why do they endure? Why are audiences so compelled by them?

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

“A Goya? In a Harrods Bag?” “TENET” and the Nightmares of Late Capitalism…

This week, the podcast that I co-host, The 250, celebrated its 250th episode with a conversation about Christopher Nolan’s TENET. I had some additional thoughts on the film.

TENET is a film about many things.

It is a movie about the idea that the future will not only judge us, it will condemn us. It is a movie about the importance of faith and mortality in a world that frequently seems to exist beyond basic human comprehension. It is a movie about time, and how there is no escaping or evading it. TENET is one of the most ambitious mainstream American blockbusters of the twenty-first century, with its fractured narrative reflecting the chaos of the time in which it was produced.

However, TENET is also a film about the nightmare of late capitalist excess. It is the story about wealth and power, and how things insulate and isolate those who hold it. It is something of a cliché to suggest that power and privilege protect the wealthy from the laws of men, from the consequences of their action – that civil and criminal laws bend to those with with enough money. TENET follows that idea to its logical conclusion, suggesting a world in which the laws of physics themselves bend to those with enough power.

TENET is a biting piece of social commentary that reflects a profoundly broken world.

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245. Tumbbad – This Just In (#250)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guest Joey Keogh, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Anand Gandhi, Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad’s Tumbbad.

In a remote Indian village, something ancient and evil is lurking beneath the surface. As the country moves towards independence, Vinayak Rao finds a way to exploit the mysteries of Tumbbad to his own advantage. However, nothing comes without a price.

At time of recording, it was ranked 250th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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240. Fargo (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair and Stacy Grouden, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo.

A routine kidnapping case spirals into something far more sinister and unsettling in an isolated corner of Minnesota. Arriving to the scene of a brutal roadside murder, Chief of Police Marge Gunderson finds herself embroiled in a complicated and chaotic story of greed and violence with horrific consequences.

At time of recording, it was ranked 176th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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235. Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) – Ani-May 2021 (#28)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Deirdre Molumby, Graham Day and Bríd Martin, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime May, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of the last two anime movies on the list, Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke-hime and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi.

This week, the second part of the double bill, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, perhaps Miyazaki’s breakthrough to western audiences.

Chihiro is moving to a new town and a new school. Her parents take a detour down a dirt road and stumble across a mysterious abandoned theme park. Chihiro quickly finds herself trapped in a weird world of spirits, witches and dragons. She needs to learn to navigate this mysterious setting and maybe find a way home.

At time of recording, it was ranked 28th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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225. Jurassic Park (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Jess Dunne and Alex Towers, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

Billionaire Richard Hammond is building a new sort of theme park. However, when an accident on site makes the investors nervous, Hammond is forced to invite a panel of experts to his remote island for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 165th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“He’s Smart, You’re Dumb!” The Cynical Idiocy of “The Wolf of Wall Street”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, just finished a season of coverage of director Martin Scorsese. The weekend before last, we discussed Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a fun, broad discussion that digs into the movie in a lot of depth. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about the film’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort.

Martin Scorsese was seventy-one years old when The Wolf of Wall Street was released, and had a filmography that stretched across six decades.

As such, it is heartening that Scorsese had a film like The Wolf of Wall Street in him. The film runs three hours, but moves with an impressive and exhausting energy. Critic Robbie Collin described The Wolf of Wall Street as “a picture that would have exhausted a director half his age.” Indeed, it seems fair to say that the film exhausted quite a few of its audience. The Wolf of Wall Street was the highest-grossing movie of Scorsese’s career, but there is some evidence it was divisive with audiences – earning a controversial “C” CinemaScore.

Indeed, the film earned no shortage of outrage. Scorsese himself was reportedly accosted at a screening for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by veterans chanting “shame on you!” The film’s portrayal of greed and excess prompted something of a moral panic. There legitimate concerns raised about where the money to fund the movie came from. There was also the reasonable observation that Scorsese had constructed The Wolf of Wall Street in such a way as to obscure the victims of Jordan Belfort.

Of course, this is something Scorsese’s films have always done, and a way in which they have consistently made the audience uncomfortable by effective immersing them in a world governed by characters who are hostile and dangerous. Taxi Driver seldom allowed itself to step outside Travis Bickle’s head, with the audience forced to confront “god’s loneliest man.” Raging Bull refused to pathologise or explain Jake LaMotta, declining to reduce his psychology to trite cause and effect. Henry Hill took centre stage in Goodfellas, but the film itself suggested he was not to be trusted.

Scorsese’s output is often framed in religious terms, and there is a strong spirituality that runs through his work. It is obviously most apparent in films like The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun or Silence, but it is a constant throw line – even where religious authority is defined by its absence, with Casino feeling like a story about what happens when man believes that God is not watching. However, Scorsese’s films also trade in doubt, challenging the audience with the fear that there may be no external arbitrator to balance the scales.

The Wolf of Wall Street offers little in the way of emotional catharsis, little by way of reassurance that people like Belfort will be punished for their crimes or that the victims will be compensated. After all, even by 2013, it was obvious that nobody actually responsible for the financial crisis would be held to account. Scorsese stated in interviews that the anger that The Wolf of Wall Street generated was part of the film’s point. “It should touch a nerve!” he insisted in interviews around the film’s release, explaining why he declined to offer a more moralistic movie.

Of course, like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas before it, The Wolf of Wall Street does condemn its subjects. Of course there are plenty of reports of stockbrokers on Wall Street loving the movie, just as many gangsters loved The Godfather. However, it seems highly unlikely that any reasonable person leaving The Wolf of Wall Street could feel any sympathy or warmth for Jordan Belfort, or that anybody paying attention to the film could imagine that his lifestyle would lead to anything other than disaster and betrayal, even if he avoided jail or bankruptcy.

More than that, The Wolf of Wall Street is notable for its refusal to glamourise Belfort himself. The film consistently portrays its subject as a moron defined only by his ravenous id, all impulse and no control. Indeed, some of that Scorsese spirituality shines through. Belfort often seems less than human, incapable of the reasoning, self-control and empathy that elevates a human being. Indeed, to frame the portrayal in Catholic terms, the elements that suggest the existence of a soul. The Wolf of Wall Street is about an animal more than a man.

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