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New Escapist Column! On the Pandemic’s Failed Streaming Revolution…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With disappointing box office for Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, and pending lawsuits from actors like Scarlet Johansson, it seemed like a good time to dive back into the ongoing debate about streaming during the pandemic.

With cinemas closed and audiences trapped at home, the pandemic was the perfect testcase for the viability of streaming as a sustainable long-term business model for major Hollywood studios. Many of these studios had been pushing for something like this for decades, to effectively vertically integrate production and delivery. However, with a year of experimentation in the rear view mirror, it increasingly seems like the streaming revolution promised by the pandemic is a bit of a dud.

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

Non-Review Review: @zola

The opening line of @zola is inevitable.

“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this b!tch here fell out?” asks Aziah King, the “Zola” of the title. “It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” There was simply no other way that the film was going to start. The line was foregrounded in the movie’s first trailer, and of course it was the opening tweet of the viral twitter thread (#TheStory) that inspired this cinematic adaptation. To put it simply, there was never any way that @zola was going to open any other way.

#NoTimeForReflection

However, the opening line is also a statement of purpose and a key to the film’s central joke. @zola positions that opening salvo as an iocnic statement of itself, a millennial riff on “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and “call me, Ishmael.” The central conceit of Janicza Bravo’s adaptation of the twitter thread is to treat the work like a piece of some modern literary canon, a snapshot of modern America filtered through the prism of art, captured 140 characters at a time. It’s a clever approach, and the best part of @zola is how eagerly it commits to that wry framing.

@zola is an impressive piece of craft, a collision of a very classical formalism with a more modern sensibility to create something that exists in a striking and imaginative space. However, there are times when @zola commits too heavily to studying its characters through the prism of social media, making them feel more like macabre exhibits in some twenty-first century freakshow than actual human beings. Still, @zola sets out to capture an extremely online aesthetic and it largely succeeds – for better and for worse.

#FreaksAndGeeks

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214. Citizen Kane – Christmas 2020 (#97)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Niall Murphy, 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, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Following the death of Charles Foster Kane, reports of the magnate’s final word slip out to the press. Trying to parse a portrait of the public figure’s life and times, a reporter attempts to discern the meaning of the word, “Rosebud.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 97th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How Christopher Nolan Became the Internet’s Villain…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Last week, the cinematic wold was shaken by the announcement that Warner Bros. would be releasing their entire cinematic slate day-and-date on HBO Max. This drew a lot of discussion and debate, but also demonstrating one of the internet’s weird cinematic fault lines: the strong hatred of director Christopher Nolan.

Nolan is one of the most interesting directors working the day. He is the last director who can approach a major studio with an original idea and secure hundreds of millions of dollars to realise it with minimal interference. In his early career, Nolan was a critical and internet darling, with a strong online following. However, since around 2012, Nolan has become a figure of a vocal and persistent derision online, much of which is anchored in the portrayal of the director as an old-fashioned auteur with a distinct sensibility.

This hatred of Nolan – which seems to bubble over in relation to anything from Anne Hathaway sharing chat show anecdotes about working with him to his reasonable critique of Warner Bros. failing to inform any of their directors or collaborators about the move to HBO Max – is interesting because it tied to other cultural trends that overlap. The internet’s passionate dislike of Nolan reflects broader shifts in the embrace of an intellectual-property- and corporate-identity-driven fandom. This hatred of Nolan often feels like a hatred of what he represents as a filmmaker.

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

210. Hugo – Summer of Scorsese, w/ The Movie Palace (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Carl Sweeney, 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, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season with a crossover with The Movie Palace, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, New York, New York, Goodfellas, Kundun, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Hugo Cabret is a twelve-year-old kid living and hiding in the industrial spaces behind a central Paris railway station. Recovering from the loss of his father, Hugo is desperate to repair the damaged automaton that is the last connection that he shares with his deceased parent. The mystery leads Hugo to a strange and lonely old man operating a kiosk, and into a whole new world.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite

The pandemic has been an interesting time for film critics.

The general dearth of mainstream theatrical releases has allowed critics to essentially pick and choose the films that they cover on streaming. As a general rule, this has led to the elevation of good films, with critics generally picking films out of the mass of streaming service releases that merit coverage and attention – films like Palm Springs or Greyhound. Of course, there have been a couple of stinkers, particularly among children’s fare with mass audience appeal like Artemis Fowl or Scoob!, but by and large critics have been able to avoid true stinkers.

Dogsbody work.

As such, the arrival of Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite! marks something of a return to normality and business as usual. It is the kind of film that critics would have had to see and review as a matter of course in the pre-pandemic era as a major theatrical release, but which might have slipped under the radar had it gone straight to streaming. Watching Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite is a reminder of a time not too long ago when critics were expected to see every major theatrical release, no matter how dark or how soul-destroying that experience might be.

With that in mind, there is something almost reassuring in the awfulness of Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite!, a movie that few critics would actively seek out if it weren’t for the obligations of their job. In a world that is desperately scrambling for any vague sense of a return to normality, Paws Unite! servers as a welcome reminder when seeing terrible movies was the worst thing with which film critics had to contend.

Keep on trucking.

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192. Hamilton: An American Musical – This Just In (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Deirdre Mulomby, 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.

This time, Thomas Kail’s Hamilton: An American Musical.

Reconstructed from a pair of live theatrical recordings and additional material compiled in June 2016, Hamilton features one of the last performances from the original Broadway cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking smash hit cultural sensation, available on streaming for the first time.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Cynicism of “Inception”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier this week. Because Inception turned ten years old this week, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to look back at Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster.

Inception is often discussed as a movie about movies, how the film’s team of dream infiltrators often feel like a team of filmmakers constructing an elaborate spectacle for an audience of one. However, this train of thought is rarely developed beyond the original premise. If Inception is a movie about movies, what exactly does it have to say about movies? How does it feel about them? The answers are surprisingly complicated and nuanced, especially in the context of a summer blockbuster from a director who clearly adores the format.

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

“They Are Touching Things!” The Aviator, and the Yearning for Human Contact…

I was thrilled to get back invited on The Movie Palace with Carl Sweeney to talk about Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. It’s a film that I hadn’t watched in quite a while, and which had a much stronger impact on me than I expected. You should listen to the whole podcast conversation, but I had some thoughts I wanted to more properly articulate.

Q-U-A-R-A-N-T-I-N-E…

The Aviator is about many things.

Most obviously, it is about famous Hollywood director and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. Hollywood had been trying for decades to bring Hughes’ life to screen. Directors like Christopher Nolan and Warren Beatty had failed to get their Hughes-related projects off the ground. Indeed, The Aviator almost feels like a work-for-hire project from Scorsese, who replaced Michael Mann as the director of this project at the behest of lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Having previously collaborated on Gangs of New York, The Aviator cemented Scorsese and DiCaprio’s partnership.

However, despite his late arrival on the project, The Aviator feels very much like a Martin Scorsese film. After all, the second half of the film is given over to an impassioned creator dragged out into the limelight and forced to justify a spectacular and costly failure while arguing for his exacting creative vision. This aspect of the film would undoubtedly have resonated with Scorsese, who had just come on to the project fresh from the debacle of Gangs of New York, which involving fighting with Harvey Weinstein over the cut of a movie “whose box office returns weren’t overwhelming.”

Still, there’s one aspect of The Aviator that feels much more pointed and resonant in the current context of global lockdowns and self-isolation. In a very fundamental way, The Aviator is a story about the paradox of touch. It is a story of a man who longs for human connection, but whose neuroses make that sort of connection impossible. The Aviator tells the tale of a man who locks himself away from the world, but must eventually find the strength to put himself back in it.

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