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New Escapist Video! On How “Aliens” Responds to “Alien”…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with every second Monday’s article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film content – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This month, with Aliens celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film. In particular, how James Cameron designed one of the great sequels by refusing to simply repeat what worked about the original Alien. Instead, Aliens works in large part because it actively responds to and engages with Alien, in a way that enriches both films.

New Escapist Column! On James Cameron’s “Aliens” as a Challenge to Ridley Scott’s “Alien”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. James Cameron’s Aliens is thirty-five years old this July, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at one of the best sequels ever made.

Aliens works in large part because it’s smart enough to avoid directly challenging Alien, in that it avoids simply recycling the original formula with a shift in location or with a new cast. Instead, it offers a very different approach to the core material. More than that, James Cameron positions Aliens as a direct challenge to Alien, deliberately and pointedly inverting some of the core themes of the original film. This choice enriches both films, turning Alien and Aliens into a conversation.

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

New Escapist Column! On the “Avatar” as a PG-13 “Aliens”…

I published a new column at The Escapist this evening. With the re-release of Avatar in China this weekend, it seemed like an opportunity to take a look at Jameson Cameron’s blockbuster.

Avatar is often discussed in terms of its relationship to nineties films like Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas and even Fern Gully. However, Avatar is also notable in its similarities to James Cameron’s first proper blockbuster. Avatar often feels like a reworking of Aliens, albeit one aimed at a much broader audience. This is interesting, positioning Avatar as part of a wave of similarly four-quadrant-pleasing reboots and remakes of classic R-rated eighties properties.

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

196. The Terminator (#245)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Joe Griffin and Emmet Kirwan, 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, James Cameron’s The Terminator.

In 2029, Los Angeles is a burning hellhole. In 1984, it is not much better. In the dead of night, two soldiers from an apocalyptic future escape into the urban landscape. These mysterious veterans of a coming war make their way across the City of Angels, with only one name on their minds: Sarah Connor.

At time of recording, it was ranked 245th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “The Terminator” as a Slyly Subversive Slasher…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. I rewatched The Terminator recently, and got thinking about the film as a horror movie rather than a science-fiction film.

The Terminator is often considered a landmark science-fiction film, and understandably so. However, The Terminator also works as a horror movie. It’s a slasher movie about a relentless force chasing a young woman through a nightmarish Los Angeles lit in shades of neon blue and green, so as to evoke a sense of insomnia. However, Cameron does more than just embrace the tropes of the slasher movie. He engages with them, and puts a subtly subversive twist on the standard rules of the genre.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “Avatar’s” Lack of a Cultural Footprint Might Be Its Best Feature…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine earlier this week, given the release of new concept art for the Avatar sequels.

Much as been made of the extent to which Avatar left no tangible pop cultural footprint, despite its massive financial success. It’s a fascinating conundrum, and almost impossible to imagine in this age of fractured fandoms and hot takes. Indeed, that lack of a strong cultural footprint might even be the best thing about it. For better or worse, Avatar was a film that millions and millions of people saw and enjoyed, before getting on with their lives. And in an era where films increasingly feel like religious events, there’s something vaguely comforting in that.

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

New Escapist Column! The Real Paradox at the Heart of the Post-“Judgment Day” Terminator Sequels…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one is taking a look at Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest effort to produce a faithful and worthy sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

However, there’s an abiding irony to the four attempted sequels to James Cameron’s blockbuster classic. The four films all hope to position themselves as worthy successors to Judgment Day, while their very existence serves as a repudiation of its core themes. There is an inherent contradiction there, in that any attempt to honour or homage Judgment Day must – by its mere existence – invalidate the central thematic point. None of the four attempts to produce a workable sequel to Judgment Day have managed to square that particular circle.

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

Non-Review Review: Alita – Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel is the result of a creative union between James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez.

This partnership makes a certain amount of sense. Both Cameron and Rodriguez are genre film-makers, and one suspects that the two men would have been fast friends had they emerged at around the same time; Cameron came of age making films like Piranha 2 or Terminator, and those are certainly of a piece with Rodriguez’s filmography from Desperado through to Planet Terror and even Sin City. Cameron has arguably elevated his work into the mainstream, in that it is impossible to imagine Rodriguez producing a mass-appeal cultural smash like Cameron did with Terminator 2: Judgment Day Titanic or Avatar.

Slice o’ life.

However, allowing for that core similarity, Cameron and Rodriguez are still fundamentally different film-makers. Their interests might align when it comes to genre work, but they construct their movies in a very different manner, with a different emphasis on different aspects of their technique. Cameron is much more interested in bringing polish to his genre work, in finding a way to transform otherwise niche high-concept tales into crowd-pleasing blockbusters with mass appeal. In contrast, Rodriguez revels in the grottier aspects of his genre work, believing that the lack of sheen is part of the appeal.

Alita: Battle Angel finds these two aesthetics at odds with one another. The story at the heart of Alita is pure Cameron, dedicated to world-building and social commentary while relying on exposition and centring on big set pieces. However, the delivery of Alita is very much in the style of Rodriguez, stressing cool beats and individual sequences rather than the singular cohesive whole. The result is jarring and deeply fascinating, but it doesn’t quite come together. Alita is an intriguing piece of cinema, but a less than satisfying would-be blockbuster. Like its central character, it seems constructed of parts that don’t quite fit.

Red is dead.

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Non-Review Review: Predator

Predator is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. It’s elegantly constructed, beautifully directed and cleverly written. Perhaps the smartest thing about Predator is the way that it so fantastically plays on audience expectations, offering the perfect bait-and-switch, teasing a jungle adventure in the style of Schwarzenegger’s Commando before morphing into something else entirely. It’s so well handled that the film’s reputation and prestige has done little to dampen its thrills.

A predator stalks...

A predator stalks…

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Watch! New Gravity Trailer!

Gravity is easily one of my most anticipated movies of this last third of 2013. The talent involved is enough to attract attention, from two wonderful lead actors through to a visionary director telling a story which seem intriguing and ingenious at the same time. Early word on the film has been pretty strong. I’m particularly reassured by the revelation that the explosions and such were only effects added for the trailer – so much so that the introductory text here seems to have been added to sway other skeptics. (That said, this trailer still features its fair share of noise in space.)

Warners have released another trailer for the film, and it looks – as one might expect from Alfonso Cuaron – absolutely stunning. Check it out below.