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The Last Jedi, Dunkirk and the Death of the Hero…

One of the more interesting aspects of living through a pop culture moment is that it is often quite hard to properly assess anything from that subjective vantage point.

It is too easy to assume that this moment is the most important moment in history, to suggest that the entirety of history has been a path leading to this moment or to the moment just beyond it. There is also a clear desire to find signal in the noise, to sift through the nearly impossible volume of data that threatens to overwhelm any filter and find a pattern. As such, it is always tempted to declare particular movies as the important to this particular moment, or to find trends when none actually exist.

At the same time, there is something to be said for trying to sift through contemporary pop culture and to observe trends. In particular, to see how those trends reflect back on the world in which those films were produced and the world in which they were released. In particular, one of the more interesting aspects of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and Dunkirk is a clear and conscious shift away from the conventional heroic narrative inside genres traditionally associated with such grand epic themes.

At a point in time when the political right seems to veering closer and closer to fascism, it is particularly striking to have last year’s sweeping science-fiction epic and last year’s highest profile war film both consciously rejecting the politics of the “strong man” and the “chosen one.”

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Non-Review Review: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour is a powerhouse performance nested inside a fairly formulaic film.

In terms of plot, Darkest Hour is very much a familiar cinematic biography. Building off the template cemented by writer Peter Morgan on The Deal, The Queen, The Special Relationship and Rush, this is a film that explores its subject through the lens of a single event. The plot of Darkest Hour unfolds across May 1940, in the shadow the Second World War. It charts the life of Winston Churchill from the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to the evacuation of Dunkirk. It is tightly focused, and perhaps the better for that.

Winston, Loseton.

In many ways, Darkest Hour feels like a collection of pop culture standards. Churchill is such an iconic part of European history, and this month was so crucial, that audiences have almost reached saturation point with narratives documenting key moments in the life of the statesman. Darkest Hour cannot help but evoke shades of everything from The King’s Speech to The Crown to Dunkirk, all of which share some sense of the same time and place. Darkest Hour simply combines a lot of pop culture Churchill into what amounts to a “greatest hits” package.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that Darkest Hour is elevated by the central performance from an almost unrecognisable Gary Oldman. If pop culture has synthesised Churchill’s history to a collection of “greatest hits”, then it is the delivery that truly matters. Oldman carries the film home.

Two-finger salute.

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Star Trek – Patterns of Force (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Patterns of Force is a rather strange little episode, the type of weird and iconic adventure that Star Trek tended to do quite well. It’s very much an off-the-wall adventure, of the kind that none of the spin-off shows would attempt. “Planet of the Nazis” is a concept that belongs alongside other second-season episodes like “Planet of the Romans” or “Planet of the Gangsters.” It’s a very goofy premise, one that requires considerable suspension of disbelief before the episode even starts.

And, yet, despite the many serious problems with Patterns of Force, this is an episode that very clearly and very forcefully has something to say. Reflecting the world in which it aired, Star Trek is a show that is largely defined by the Second World War. In The City on the Edge of Forever, it was revealed that the Second World War had to happen to beckon the bright and optimistic future of Star Trek. Almost forty years later, the final televised season of the franchise would return to that idea in its opening episode.

"Computer, query. What is Godwin's Law?"

“Computer, query. What is Godwin’s Law?”

Kirk’s “final frontier” was Kennedy’s “new frontier” extrapolated centuries into the future, an optimistic and very American vision of what the twenty-third century might hold. Given that the show aired two decades following the end of the Second World War, the conflict that made America the most powerful global superpower, it makes sense that the conflict should cast a shadow over Star Trek. Various members of the production had served in the conflict, and it remained part of the national consciousness.

So an episode pitting Kirk and Spock against honest-to-goodness space Nazis seemed inevitable.

"Well, there goes syndication in Germany..."

“Well, there goes syndication in Germany…”

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Spider-Man: Reign (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man is not Batman.

This really should be self-evident, but it doesn’t seem to be. The biggest problem with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was that it wasted a lot of time telling audiences an origin story they all knew and had last seen a decade earlier. The second biggest problem was that the movie seemed to want to be a Batman film. There are a variety of tropes and conventions that work much better in a Batman story than they ever will in a Spider-Man story, and vice verse.

Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man is far from the only Spider-Man story to make this mistake. Spider-Man: Reign, written and illustrated by Kaare Andrews, is essentially an attempt to use Spider-Man to tell another version of The Dark Knight Returns. It goes about as well as you might expect. (That is: not at all.)

Swinging through the night...

Swinging through the night…

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Non-Review Review: Falling Down

Falling Down is something of a cult classic. It, along with Phone Booth, stands as proof that Joel Schumacher is actually a rather wonderful director, as much as his failures might occasional overshadow his accomplishments. Filmed in the midst of the Los Angeles riots, Falling Down manages to speak to a lot of the anger of urban living, as William “D-Fens” Foster takes out his frustration on an urban environment that has gone completely mad. Almost twenty years after it was originally released, Falling Down is still a potent little film.

The best D-FENS…

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Non-Review Review: Demolition Man

I love Demolition Man. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

Eye see you...

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