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New Escapist Video! “Dune Is One of the Year’s Best Movies – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Dune, which is released theatrically in Europe and the United States next weekend.

New Escapist Column! On the Return of the Hollywood Epic…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of The Green Knight, and the upcoming releases of movies like Dune and The Last Duel, it seems like the old-fashioned Hollywood epic might be making a comeback.

This is interesting, as the genre has long been a Hollywood staple. Most people obviously think of the big biblical epics from the middle of the twentieth-century – Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Quo Vadis? However, there was an interesting revival at the turn of the millennium with the release of Gladiator and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Hollywood failed to really reignite the genre. However, that failure has not been for lack of trying.

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

Non-Review Review: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time demonstrates that the adjective “novelistic” isn’t always a compliment.

Writer and director Antonio Campos is clearly aiming for an epic sweep to The Devil All the Time. The film unfolds over the course of several decades, following several intersecting lives in rural Ohio in the space between the end of the Second World War and the height of the Vietnam War. This is a tale that spans generations, with an impressive density. Small characters get huge arcs, dramatic twists hinge on chance encounters, and a large amount of the film’s plot is delivered by way of folksy omniscient narration.

Holland of the Free?

It is easier to admire The Devil All the Time than it is to appreciate it. Campos has drawn together a formidable cast to tell a story that explores a host of big ideas about small town life. The Devil All the Time clearly aspires to be a piercing study of religion, sex and violence in the American northeast. The film maintains an impressive atmosphere, in large part due to Campos’ moody direction and the work of Lol Crawley and the rumbling soundtrack from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.

However, nothing in The Devil All the Time has room to breath. There are so many elements competing for narrative space that even films two-hours-and-twenty-minute runtime feels overstuffed. Characters are never allowed to stew or develop in a way that a story like this demands, instead reducing the movie to a series of plot points and thematic observations delivered in a rich and moody manner, but without any real substance to bind them all together.

Book ‘im.

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159. Gone With the Wind – Winter of ’39 (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, 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, Victor Fleming, George Cukor and Sam Wood’s Gone With the Wind.

A tale of revolution, romance and redemption set against the backdrop of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind remains one of the most sweeping epics ever produced by the studio system. The decades-long love affair between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler unfolds against the backdrop of the fall and rise of Scarlett’s family fortune.

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

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 1, Episode 19 (“Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions”)

Wrapping up a late-first-season exploration of Millennium with the incomparable Christopher Knowles, I was thrilled to pop onto The Time is Now to discuss Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions.

In case the title doesn’t give the game away, Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions is a delightfully weird episode of television. It finds Frank Black confronting the loss of his best friend Bob Bletcher by becoming embroiled in an epic and existential conflict that exists at the very limits of his understanding. It might involve a ritualistic killer and a corrupt lawyer, but it may also involve renegade angels and the forces of hell operating on the mortal plane. The beauty of Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions lies in the ambiguity.

Indeed, that ambiguity was a huge part of the fun in discussing the episode with Chris. I think we both had slightly different reads on what the episode was about and where it was coming from, which speaks to its strength as an episode of television. It’s a staggering piece of work, one that obviously lays the groundwork for Patient X and The Red and the Black in the fifth season of The X-Files.

As ever, you can listen to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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140. Sanjuro – This Just In (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guest Chris Lavery, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Akira Kurusawa’s Sanjuro.

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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Non-Review Review: Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots is unfocused and unmoored.

Mary, Queen of Scots feels like it should be a star vehicle for Saoirse Ronan. This makes sense. Ronan is a star in ascent. She has three Oscar nominations, and has recently headlined films with broad appeal like Brooklyn and Lady Bird. The concept of building a star vehicle for Ronan from the life and times of Mary Stuart seems like a good idea. Ronan experimented with larger-scale films in her teens like The Lovely Bones or The Host, but it seems perfectly reasonable to have her approach a large scale period drama as a genuine movie star.

Beth left unsaid.

However, Mary, Queen of Scots suffers from what feels like a crisis of confidence. The film’s second-billed lead is Margot Robbie, a successful Oscar-winning actor with similar star wattage to Ronan. Despite the fact that Mary Stuart retained the title of the film, Mary, Queen of Scots has largely been sold and marketed as a film with two leads; consider the misguided #dearsister hashtag publicity campaign, or the misguided branding on the character-focused profiles. It often seems like Mary, Queen of Scots clumsily aspires to be a biography of Queen Elizabeth I.

Mary, Queen of Scots is never entirely sure whether it wants to be a character-driven story focused on one woman’s life or a two-hander about lives in parallel. Watching the film, it feels like the decision was repeatedly taken and revised at various points during production, never committing to one approach for fear that it might preclude the other. The result is uneven and disjointed. Mary, Queen of Scots devotes enough time to Queen Elizabeth I that she feels like a major player, but only managed to get Ronan and Robbie together on set for a single day.

Queen of hearts.

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 21 (“The Die is Cast”)

Following on from my look at Improbable Cause with Wes and Clay, I return to The Pensky Podcast to take a look at the unlikely second part of the two-part story.

We talk about “epic” storytelling on Star Trek, and the shifting of focus away from the Federation, as well as the internal politics of the Cardassians and the Romulans. We also talk about the unique strand of liberal humanism that runs through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the tragedy of so many of its alien characters who unable to ever go home again.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – ‘Til Death Do Us Part (Review)

Perhaps more than any other Star Trek show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an epic.

Sure, Star Trek: Voyager has more than a few characteristics of epic storytelling; it is a mythic journey, much like The Odyssey and The Iliad before it. In fact, several episodes of Voyager borrow quite heavily from those earliest of stories, with Favourite Son feature a planet for of sirens and Bliss finding the crew confronted with the deep space equivalent of lotus eaters. However, the storytelling on Voyager was always too small and too episodic to embrace the potential for a sprawling galactic epic.

Wedded bliss.

In contrast Deep Space Nine is a story with a lot of breadth. Of course, there are any number of isolated and standalone episodes within the seven-year run of Deep Space Nine, but there is also a strong sense that these one-hundred-and-seventy-plus episodes of television can be taken together and fashioned into a single cohesive narrative that runs from Emissary through to What You Leave Behind. There are undoubtedly bumps and inconsistencies along the way, strange shifts in direction and sharp left turns, but the series hangs together relatively well as a single narrative.

This is particularly true when it comes to the final ten episode of the series, which are very much intended to draw down the curtain on seven years of storytelling, while reinforcing the sense that this has truly been an epic narrative.

Feels like coming home…

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The Defenders – Fish in the Jailhouse (Review)

The second season of Daredevil hangs over The Defenders.

This is not a surprise. Daredevil was the first Marvel Netflix show, and so it occupies pride of place in the line-up. It was the only series to get a second season before the release of The Defenders. More than that, the showrunners in charge of The Defenders are the same showrunners who oversaw the second season of Daredevil. It makes sense that Matt Murdock would find himself cast as the protagonist of The Defenders, and that the show would like a logical continuation of his arc.

Apparently the Dutch settlers made the mistake of building Manhattan on a load-bearing dragon skeleton.

In many ways, the story of The Defenders is the story of Matt Murdock. In fact, Matt Murdock is the only character to end The Defenders in a markedly different place than he began. He begins the show having retired his costumed life following the death of Elektra in A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen. Over the course of the show, he embraces his status as hero. He comes to don the costume again and to lead the nascent team in Take Shelter, just over half-way through the season. He ends The Defenders sacrificing himself to save the city, only to narrowly survive.

While the stars of Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are all returned to a position where their first and second seasons might flow organically into one another, The Defenders almost feels like a truncated blockbuster season of Daredevil.

“Yeah, Thor: The Dark World did this gag first, but let’s just go with it.”

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