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271. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (-#86)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Graham Day and Niall Glynn, 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, Sidney J. Furie’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

It is a turbulant time in the life of Clark Kent. He finds himself considering selling the family farm. The Daily Planet has been brought out by an aggressive media conglomerate. A young boy has begun to question his faith in Superman, asking whether the Man of Steel can truly protect the world from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Tired of standing by as a passive observer, Superman decides to finally take action. However, an old enemy is lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring a trap of his own.

At time of recording, it was ranked 86th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Peacemaker” and “MacGruber” as Reckonings with Reagan Era Action Heroes…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the recent release of MacGruber and Peacemaker, it seemed like an interesting opportunity to reflect on two comedy streaming shows that are very firmly anchored in a very particular nostalgia for a certain kind of eighties Reagan era action hero.

MacGruber and Peacemaker are essentially extended riffs on a very archetypal form of American heroism, a very militaristic and jingoistic expression of heroism. While both shows are reasonably affectionate and surprisingly sympathetic to its subjects, they are also quite aggressive in their desconstruction of this archetype. Both MacGruber and Peacemaker are shows about characters who are deeply unpleasant and incredibly juvenile, in what feels like an interesting interrogation of the action heroes of the era. It’s an interesting angle on this nostalgia, feeling at times like a tempered reflection.

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

 

New Escapist Column! On How “Peacemaker” Juxtaposes Eighties Nostalgia and Modern Masculinity…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. We’re hopefully doing a series of recaps and reviews of James Gunn’s Peacemaker, which is streaming weekly on HBO Max. The first three episodes of the show released today, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

Gunn’s filmography is saturated with an affectionate nostalgia for the eighties. It comes to the fore in Peacemaker, down to the casting of John Cena. Cena is a lead actor in the style of classic eighties “hard body” action heroes like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, that nostalgia does not exist purely for its own sake. Peacemaker is a show engaged with modern masculinity, in particular deconstructing the sort of eighties masculinity embodied by its central character. Peacemaker is a story about whether its lead character can change and evolve, emerging from a cocoon as he investigates “Project: Butterfly.”

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

231. Mac and Me (-#83)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Niall Glynn and Richard Drumm, 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, Stewart Raffill’s Mac and Me.

Following a move to California, young Eric is feeling a little alienated and disconnected. However, the young boy’s life is quickly turned upside down following a chance encounter with a creature from another world that has a strange hunger for Coca-Cola and Skittles.

At time of recording, it was ranked 83rd on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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215. Dune (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Charlene Lydon and Joe Griffin, 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, David Lynch’s Dune.

The galaxy is in turmoil. Rumours swirl of a plot against House Atreides. As Duke Leto Atreides takes control of the desert planet of Dune, he tries to track down the traitors in his midst. Meanwhile, his son Paul finds himself on the verge of an awakening that will have a profound impact on the future of mankind.

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

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“Doctor Who?” The Deconstructed Davison Doctor…

This week, I had the privilege of stopping by The Galactic Yo-Yo to talk a little bit about Doctor Who with the wonderful Molly Marsh. In preparation for the episode, I rewatched the bulk of the Peter Davison era for the first time in years. I talked about it on the podcast, which is worth your time. But I also thought it was worth jotting some of the thoughts down in more detail.

Rewatching the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who is a strange experience for a number of reasons, not all of which are good.

The Davison era arguably served as a point of transition. It existed in the negative space between two particularly memorable incarnations of the Time Lord. Tom Baker is justifiably considered the most important and influential actor to play the role. Notably, he was the only lead from the classic series to get a showcase scene in The Day of the Doctor. Despite Colin Baker’s protestations, this made a great deal of sense. For an entire generation of television viewers – not just Doctor Who fans – Tom Baker is the Doctor.

On the other extreme, Peter Davison was succeeded by Colin Baker. Whether rightly or wrongly, Colin Baker occupies a similarly important place in the mythos. With his garish costume and his string of terrible stories, Colin Baker was long the public face of the decline and decay of Doctor Who as a cultural institution. This isn’t entirely fair. The rot had set in considerably earlier than Baker’s arrival, and there’s a sense in which he suffered from terrible timing. Still, Colin Baker wound up serving as the face of the show’s hiatus and the embarrassing Doctor in Distress.

This puts Peter Davison in a strange position. He is caught between these two hugely important moments in the show’s history. However, he also arguably lacks a strong cohesive identity like other iconic iterations of the character. The Fifth Doctor is a markedly different character from the iterations around him, and Davison was subject to criticisms from fans that his interpretation of the title character was “bland” or “boring.” It’s arguable that the Sixth Doctor’s abrasive personality was a direct response to this perceived blandness.

However, in just under three full seasons in the role, Peter Davison left quite a mark on the Time Lord. His final story, The Caves of Androzani, is rightly regarded as one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made. (Indeed, it is one of the rare stories to have topped polls of fandom.) More to the point, it’s notable that Davison would become a surprisingly strong influence on the revival series. Tom Baker got to occupy centre stage in The Day of the Doctor, but Davison returned first in Time Crash. The short served primarily as a love letter to Davison’s influence on the role.

There’s a lot of very fascinating stuff happening during Davison’s time in the role, most of seemingly happening by accident. The most striking thing about Davison’s tenure in the role is the recurring sense that he doesn’t quite fit. The Fifth Doctor often seems to struggle with the basic narrative conventions of Doctor Who, wrestling with the series’ core concepts and underlying assumptions. Over the course of Davison’s three seasons in the role, Doctor Who seems to ask what might happen if there were an iteration of the Doctor who wasn’t up to the task.

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160. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (#15)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Luke Dunne, The 250 is a fortnightly 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, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back.

It is a time of galactic strife. Following the Empire’s defeat at the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance finds itself on the run. A surprise attack on the ice planet of Hoth scatters the rebel fighters to the wind, with Luke embarking on training with a mysterious figure named Yoda while Han Solo attempts to ferry Princess Leia to safety. However, things are not as they appear.

At time of recording, it was ranked 15th on the list of the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! The Flawed Redemption at the Heart of “Return of the Jedi”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one has been kicking around inside my head for a little while, but came to the fore with the recent trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Primarily, the flawed redemption at the heart of Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi.

Look, everybody knows the basic arc of the Star Wars saga. Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father, sets out to redeem him, manages to turn Vader away from the dark side before Vader dies. However, that’s never been quite how it works. The actual arc is a lot messier and more complicated, and a lot less conventionally heroic than it is remembered. Return of the Jedi never actually bothers to redeem Vader, instead focusing on redeeming Luke’s idea of Vader. At its core, Return of the Jedi is a story about how hard Luke wants to believe his father was a good man, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Along the way, Luke gambles the entire future of the Rebel Alliance and his sister’s fate on the assumption that there is goodness in Vader, while the film never actually bothers to demonstrate that there is any. It’s a fascinating incomplete arc, and one that hints at a gaping moral void at the heart of the larger Star Wars saga. It’s a story about how an individual’s redemption doesn’t matter, only other people’s idea of that redemption. In its own way, it marks Return of the Jedi as a quintessentially eighties movie; it is a story about how the most important thing to Luke is not the fate of the galaxy, but his own self-image.

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

Non-Review Review: Blinded by the Light

If the type of jukebox musical codified by the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, Mamma Mia and Rocketman is to become a fixture of the pop cultural landscape, there are certainly worse ways to approach the template than Blinded by the Light.

Many of the beats and structures of Blinded by the Light will be familiar to audiences. Blinded by the Light is a variety of familiar genres blended together; a nostalgic pop period piece rooted in the late eighties, a coming of age story about an insecure teen, a culture clash dramedy about an immigrant family in turbulent times. On top of all that, it is a loving ode to the music of Bruce Springsteen in particular, and more broadly to the power of musical fandom in the life of a wayward teenager.

“Stay on the streets of this town, and they’ll be carvin’ you up all night.”

Blinded by the Light knows the track relatively well. It hits most of its marks. There are few surprises nestled within the run-time of this life affirming story of a young man treating the music of Bruce Springsteen as a spiritual guide. Indeed, there is even a little clumsiness on display. Blinded by the Light makes a strong thematic argument for the importance of family and friends, particularly those around frustrated teenager Javed. However, those characters tend to drop into and out of the narrative, disappearing for extended periods.

However, Blinded by the Light is elevated by infectious enthusiasm. Blinded by the Light – for better and for worse – captures that teenage intoxication of excitement and interest, with a compelling vulnerability and with all the energy of youth. Blinded by the Light is cringy and silly and goofy, but knowingly so. It doesn’t just capture the awkwardness of teenage fantasy, but embraces it. There is a sense that Blinded by the Light is aware of the embarrassment and the stupidity obscured by teenage enthusiasm, and refuses to look away. There’s something joyous in that.

“In Candy’s room, there are pictures of her heroes on the wall,
but to get to Candy’s room, you gotta walk the darkness of Candy’s hall.”

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Non-Review Review: Bumblebee

In some respects, Bumblebee feels like the Transformers movie that the franchise has been trying and failing to produce for over a decade.

Bumblebee has its share of problems. Some of those are inherited from a franchise working from a template established by Michael Bay, which means that the style of action direction carries over in certain cases. Some of those are inherited from the fact that the film is “based upon the toys produced by Hasbro Entertainment”, which means that the film occasionally feels obliged to cram in various characters and elements for reasons more toyetic than narrative.

“You really don’t get this ‘robots in disguise’ thing, do you?”

That said, Bumblebee largely works due to a combination of factors. Hailee Steinfeld is the most likable protagonist in the series to date, if not the most likable character in general. The direction from Travis Knight largely steers clear of the cluttered excesses that define the other films in the franchise. The script from Christina Hodson cleverly pushes the film down both in scale and spectacle, meaning that Bumblebee is the first Transformers film not to loose sight of its humanity (let alone its human characters) in its storytelling.

Bumblebee is perhaps not the best film that it could be, but is very easily the best Transformers film to date.

A girl and her robot.

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