• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

New Escapist Column! On “Ted Lasso” and How We Watch (and Discuss) Television…

I published a new column at The Escapist today. With the end of the second season of Ted Lasso, and with the ongoing discussion around the show, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at the evolving conversation around the series.

The discussion around Ted Lasso has followed an interesting arc. It premiered to lukewarm reviews, that seemed almost grudgingly positive. However, the first season seemed to find its audience in hindsight. Once it was completed, the season drew both serious consideration and enthusiastic praise from a variety of outlets. Many viewers came to the first season as a complete object, a collection of episodes that they could binge at their own pace. In contrast, this growing audience watched the second season week-on-week. It’s interesting to wonder if this shaped the more divisive response to the second season.

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

New Escapist Column! On “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in Conversation with the MCU…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday evening. With the wrapping up of the first season of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at the show’s first season – and, in particular, how it positions itself within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is thirteen years old this May. It spans 24 films, a handful of television series and almost a dozen separate film franchises. That is a lot of baggage. Indeed, it seems like the MCU has reached a point where the baggage of its earlier installments exerts almost as much gravity as the source material itself. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like a prime example of this, with the series very much engaged in conversation with the films in the Captain America franchise.

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

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “Paddington 2 is Objectively Better Than Citizen Kane”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the fourteenth episode of the year, for a discussion that covered The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Paddington, Paddington 2, Citizen Kane and the entire point of criticism. So, you know, nothing too big or broad.

You can listen to back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

Non-Review Review: Malcolm and Marie

The reactions to Malcolm and Marie have been divided, to the say the least.

On one extreme, some critics have been quick to laud Sam Levinson’s black-and-white character study as a surprise late addition to the awards race, a bracing old-fashioned character drama anchored in two compelling performances that interrogates a relationship that never seems certain whether it will implode or explode. It is the kind of film that invites comparisons to works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band or even something like Autumn Sonata: characters trapped in a confined space, with the drama ready to boil over.

On the other extreme, critics have been quick to argue that Malcolm and Marie is an indulgent mess anchored in a grossly unlikeable and shallow protagonist that never digs beneath the skin of its central characters. More than that, Levinson seems to use the film as an opportunity to work through his own issues as a promising (and privileged) young filmmaker who feels like he has not necessarily been given the critical respect that he deserves. Malcolm and Marie is a series of self-serious monologues delivered in the aesthetic of a (very pretty) Calvin Klein commercial.

As ever, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Author, Author (Review)

Author, Author is a deeply cynical piece of Star Trek.

Author, Author is arguably as bleak as anything that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever produced. It is a story about how shallow and how self-centred the primary cast of Star Trek: Voyager can be, but also a showcase of how little the Federation has actually evolved in the twelve years since Star Trek: The Next Generation tackled the same themes in The Measure of a Man. Indeed, with production wrapping up and the series winding down, Author, Author seems to acknowledge the flip side of the “end of history.” There is no sense of material progress. Things have not improved. Things have not changed.

Doctor Demented.

Author, Author literalises this within its own narrative. Author, Author suggests that little has changed in the Federation’s worldview since The Measure of a Man, while also insisting that nothing will change in the immediate future. Author, Author acknowledges that The Measure of a Man was a desperate punt of a thorny issue, but also frames its own narrative as exactly the same kind of punt. The closing scene of the episode places any long-term consequences of the story four months in the future. In doing so, it places them squarely outside the purview of Voyager in particular and Berman era Star Trek in general.

The only problem with all of this is that Author, Author often seems entirely unaware of how unrelentingly cynical and bleak it is.

Write on!

Continue reading

Star Trek – Spectre of the Gun (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Star Trek is dead.

Not in a literal or technical sense. The show had been brought back from the brink of cancellation, offered a last-minute reprieve by NBC following a number high-profile fan campaigns. As far as outside observers were concerned, Star Trek lived. Kirk and Spock would continue their voyages into the space, the production team offering new and exciting interstellar adventures for the delectation of the audience at home. The execution had been stayed, Star Trek was back on television for another season.

End of the line.

End of the line.

However, the show had been mortally wounded. Star Trek was clearly not a top priority for NBC. The show was moved to the infamous “graveyard slot” of Fridays at 10pm. The budget was slashed even further. Most of the top tier creative talent left, including veteran producers Dorothy Fontana and Gene L. Coon along with creator Gene Roddenberry. Tensions were simmering behind the scenes. Even before NBC cut the season order to twenty-four episodes later in the season, it was clear that the series was on its last legs.

Star Trek was very much in limbo. Indeed, looking at third season as a whole, many such analogies suggest themselves. Star Trek was a show limping and lurching towards its own funeral, hobbled and humbled by forced outside of its control. These creative problems bubbled through the production into the finished product, with much of the third season inheriting a haggard and defeated disposition. There is a funereal tone to a lot of the third season, distinct even from the Lovecraftian horror that bubbled through the show’s earliest episodes.

The brains of the operation...

The brains of the operation…

Spectre of the Gun is part of that funereal tone, although it is also something different. Spectre of the Gun was the first episode of the season to be produced, although it was shuffled into the sixth broadcast slot. To be fair, this rescheduling seems appropriate; Spectre of the Gun aired both the week of Halloween and one day shy of the eighty-seventh anniversary of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The episode has a haunted quality to it, a more mournful horror than that on display in the franchise’s previous “Halloween episode”, Catspaw.

In some ways, there is an interesting contrast between the first episode of the third season to be produced and the first episode of the third season to air. Both Spectre of the Gun and Spock’s Brain speak to the grim realities of the third season, offering a taste of the anxieties simmering through the show. Both seem to acknowledge that Star Trek is a shell of its former self, whether in the half-remembered ghost town of Spectre of the Gun or the brainless Spock shuffling his way through Spock’s Brain. The only difference is that Spectre of the Gun is a good episode.

Men of mist-ery.

Men of mist-ery.

Death stalks through Spectre of the Gun. Seeking to confront the Melkotians, Kirk and his crew beam down to a formless world that is nothing more than swirling clouds of gas. When they find themselves transported to Tombstone, the sky is an ominous red and the Earps are cast as horsemen of the apocalypse. The world seems hollow; the sound stage is incomplete. Time ticks down, albeit to a fictional five o’clock deadline rather than the historical three o’clock shout out. During the final confrontation, the wind howls as if the world itself is screaming in anguish.

Spectre of the Gun confronts Kirk with a world of phantoms. It evokes a world long vanished into fading memory, populated by characters who died long before. It traps Kirk and his crew in what is effectively a death trap, cutting off all of their narrative options as it marches them inexorably towards a bloody finale. It is even written by a ghost, with Lee Cronin a convenient fiction allowing former producer Gene L. Coon the chance to write a few scripts for a show he had already departed and which was not long for this world. The setting is even called “Tombstone.”

Even the newspaper is in on it!

Even the newspaper is in on it!

Continue reading

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (Review)

Shortly, I shall be the most powerful man in the realm. King in all but name, for Nottingham is not enough.

It isn’t?

After this, Derby.

Right.

Then Lincoln. And after Lincoln…

Worksop?

The world!

– the Sheriff outlines his plot to Clara

Robot of Sherwood is a functional piece of television, with a wonderful closing scene capping a very light forty-five minutes. Mark Gatiss is a writer who tends to trade on nostalgia, and who clearly holds a great deal of affection for the past. As such, Robot of Sherwood provides a fairly effective and straightforward counterpoint to the heavy moral questions of Deep Breath and Into the Dalek. Is the Doctor a hero? It doesn’t matter, because his story is that of a hero.

There is a sense that perhaps Gatiss is being a little bit too glib here, to the point where Robot of Sherwood almost plays defensively – a justification of the writer’s tendency to rose-tinted nostalgia and a rejection of critical approaches towards history or story. Nevertheless, Robot of Sherwood does pretty much what it sets out to do. It provides Peter Capaldi with a suitably light script and a chance to flex his comedic muscles, while providing a suitably fairy-tale-ish pseudo-historical.

Legendary outlaw...

Legendary outlaw…

This season is introducing a new lead actor, a risky proposition for any show. As a result, the first half of the season tends to play it rather safe. Robot of Sherwood is the only episode in the first half of the season not to credit Steven Moffat as writer or co-writer; however, it is still written by an established Doctor Who veteran. After all, Mark Gatiss wrote The Unquiet Dead, the first episode of the relaunched series not written by Russell T. Davies. He also wrote Victory of the Daleks, the first story of the Moffat era not written by Moffat himself.

Indeed, the season returns to the classic “home”/“future”/“historical” opening triptych structure that defined the Davies era; it is the first time that this structure has been seen since Matt Smith’s opening season. (For Davies, “home” was twenty-first century London; for Moffat, it is the Paternoster Gang.) Robot of Sherwood is the show’s first proper “celebrity historical” since Vincent and the Doctor in that same opening season. “Safe” is very much the name of the game for this stretch of the season. Robot of Sherwood is very safe.

"You'll ruin the paint work!"

“You’ll ruin the paint work!”

Continue reading

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country by J.M. Dillard (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Reading her novelisation of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it’s hard to shake the feeling that author J.M. Dillard really does not like this film.

It’s a very peculiar sensation, to read an adaptation clearly written by somebody who could not care less for the source material. It is not unique, of course. Diane Carey’s adaptation of Broken Bow is downright scathing in its attitude towards Star Trek: Enterprise. It just seems rather strange that J.M. Dillard’s early adaptation of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier seems a lot fonder of its source material.

st-theundiscoveredcountry-dillard

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Cabin in the Woods

Part of me wonders when it’s appropriate to start ranking the year’s films. I say that, because I’ve just had the pleasure of catching The Cabin in the Woods, which is easily one of the best films of the year so far, and the best horror movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. I know those sound like trite clichés, but Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s exploration of the horror genre just bristles with a raw energy that sweeps up the audience.

It’s a rare horror film that has you laughing when it wants you to laugh, while keeping you anticipating shocks that you know it knows you know are coming. In many ways, it seems like Cabin in the Woods comes from a very raw and personal place from both director and writer, one conflicted over the genre as a whole. From the outset it’s clear that Whedon and Goddard truly love the conventions and the thrills, while loathing the inherent voyeurism and nihilism that is almost inseparable from those aspects. It’s a weird dichotomy, and Cabin in the Woods is a weird film, but weird in that most brilliant of ways.

Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Scream 4 (Scre4m)

Alright, Kirby, then it’s time for your last chance. Name the remake of the groundbreaking horror movie in which the vill…

Halloween, uh, Texas Chainsaw, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, Amityville Horror, uh, Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine, When A Stranger Calls, Prom Night, Black Christmas, House of Wax, The Fog, Piranha. It’s one of those, right? Right?

(beat)

I got it right. I was &@#!ing right.

– Ghostface and Kirby redefine the frame of reference

In many ways, Scream 4 feels like a fitting end to the Scream franchise. In fact, it feels like it has come something of a full circle from the first film, which was envisaged as something of an obituary for the dying slasher genre. In the years since, prompted in a large part by the success of the original Scream, the genre has been resurrected. Watching the grind of horror films released, it seems that Hollywood has been churning out nothing but empty roman-numeral-denoted sequels and hallow remakes, with very little thought or creativity. Scream 4 feels a like a reflection on the “success” that the first film wrought, and actually feelings like a fitting closing act.

It's going viral...

Continue reading