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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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New Escapist Column! On Clint Eastwood’s Complex American Masculinity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Clint Eastwood turned ninety years old yesterday, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about the American icon.

For decades, Eastwood has embodied a certain ideal of American masculinity. However, he has also used his career to offer a more nuanced and sophisticated exploration of that masculinity than many observers will readily acknowledge. Eastwood is the rare movie star who completely understands his screen persona and the audience’s relationship with it, and uses that to engage in interesting discussions about what that says about American machismo.

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

Non-Review Review: True History of the Kelly Gang

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

It’s very lucid,” notes a supporting character of the eponymous text.

The young teacher has just read the introductory paragraph of a letter that outlaw Ned Kelly has prepared for his son, a way of sharing the truth of events with his heir. Kelly will subsequently bind the paper to himself, wrapping it to his midsection beneath plates of metal armour. That same teacher will later ruminate on the blood-stained documents, dismissing Kelly’s story as nothing more than “the ravings of a madman.” Perhaps both statements are true. Perhaps the letter is more true for the fact that it is incoherent and existential poetry.

True History of the Kelly Gang prefaces its title with a warning to the audience that “nothing you’re about to see is true.” The word “true” then serves as a bridge from that preamble into the movie itself, lingering on the screen long enough to be incorporated into the no-frills titlecard for True History of the Kelly Gang. Truth and fiction linger and intersect, contradictions rippling through the finished film. Watching True History of the Kelly Gang, one gets a sense of how these contradictory statements can each be accurate in their own way.

True History of the Kelly Gang is both a vivid waking dream and a complete narrative mess, simultaneously.

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161. The Irishman – This Just In (#158)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall and Jay Coyle, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Sitting alone in an older retirement home, former gangster Frank Sheeran recounts a life story that spans the second half of the twentieth century, charting a life lived on the margins of greatness but also at the outskirts of decency.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 158th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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149. American Beauty – Summer of ’99 (#73)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Charlene Lydon, 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. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of ’99 season, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Fight Club, The Green MileThe Insider, Run, Lola, Run. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

Trapped in a loveless marriage and father to a daughter who wants him dead, Lester Burnham finds himself going through a midlife crisis. In the year leading up to his death, Lester attempts to reconnect with his youth and rediscover the man that he once was before the embers die out for good.

At time of recording, it was ranked 73rd on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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“This Was Supposed to Be a Spiritual Experience”: The Mid-Nineties Ennui of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

I’ve never been able to watch it with any kind of perspective. To me it just looks like some crude backyard movie a bunch of kids slapped together. There seems to me to be, on one hand, a group of people who were strictly horror fans who venerated it. Only over time has it come to occupy a very peculiar position, and I still don’t have any concept of what that is. I think we just wanted to hang a bunch of people on meat hooks, chop ’em up, and sell tickets at the theatre.

– Kim Henkel discusses The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is a very nineties film, speaking to a very unique set of nineties anxieties.

There is something very revealing and candid about certain kinds of bad movies. Of course, many bad movies are just bad, hacky executions of well-worn concepts without any insight or skill to anchor them. However, there are some bad movies that seem driven by a strange source of passion and energy, which makes them bizarre snapshots of a particular time and place. It is almost a sort of candour, an unguarded bluntness, that allows them to articulate their perspective without any of the consideration or care of a better film.

The Next Generation is one of those films. It is, to be entirely clear, a terrible film. It is sloppily constructed. It is terribly framed. It is incoherently plotted. Its characters are drawn in the crudest of terms. Most damningly, it combines two particularly awful subgenres of the “bad movie” archetype. It is both a horror movie that is not scary and a black comedy that is not funny. It is, by all accounts, a disaster. Watching the film, the question isn’t how the release was delayed for three years. Instead, the question becomes how the film was ever released at all.

However, whether in spite of because of all of this, The Next Generation feels like a weird snapshot of a particular mid-nineties mood. Somehow, while groping around in the darkness, it accidentally puts its finger on the pulse.

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127. Akira – Anime April 2019 (#249)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, 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. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze no tani no Naushika and Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira.

This week, the first part of the double bill, Akira, set in the then-distant future of 2019.

In the streets of Neo-Tokyo, an entire generation is left to fend for itself. Against a backdrop of reckless violence and urban chaos, as the city seems ready to burn to the ground around them, teenagers Tetsuo and Kaneda have forged a friendship rooted in desperation and necessity. However, everything changes when Tetsuo has a fleeting encounter with a strange child, and opens doors to possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 216th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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115. Roma – This Just In (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Aine O’Connor, 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, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

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: The Mule

The Mule is an endearingly and charmingly bizarre piece of work, one which plays to both the best and worst impulses of its leading man and director.

A revealing moment comes very early in The Mule, when the protagonist is making his way through a horticultural convention. Pausing at a table where a salesman is explaining that customers can now order their flowers online, Earl pauses and sighs. “The internet,” he mutters to both himself and the audience. “Who needs that?” It’s a moment that serves as something of a litmus test, in which the audience find themselves asking how much that statement illuminates Earl’s perspective or the film’s central arguments.

Who needs Netflix money anyway?

Earl is very much an archetypal Clint Eastwood protagonist. He is crotchety, casually racist, well-intentioned and irresistibly charming. These elements are often uncomfortable when played off one another, with films like Gran Torino playing with the tension between the film’s perspective and the outdated views of its incredibly engaging protagonist. Eastwood is everybody irascible elderly relative, to the point that it’s almost impossible not to like him. Particularly in his later roles, Eastwood rarely plays characters who are actively malicious. They are just insensitive and blunt.

Of course, Earl is also a decidedly ambiguous figure. This is part of what defines him as an archetypal Clint Eastwood protagonist. Eastwood’s screen persona is the very definition of a certain sort of masculinity; confident, assured, assertive, canny. However, Eastwood’s screen persona is also built around deconstructing certain old-fashioned notions of masculinity, picking at the role that violence plays in defining a masculine identity or exploring the emotional consequences of rigid professionalism and stiff stoicism.

Case foreclosed.

Earl is incredibly disarming, and almost impossible not to like, a fact that The Mule repeatedly and consciously acknowledges. From Drug Enforcement Administration agents to cartel enforcers, Earl has the capacity to smooth-talk absolutely anyone. Attending his granddaughter’s wedding, his ex-wife very pointedly has to fight off the urge to succumb to Earl’s charm offensive. The Mule is quite conscious that Earl’s wit and charisma are not the entirety of who he is, and how they belie other less flattering aspects of his personality.

The Mule is a film that is stuck in a constant push-and-pull with its leading man, which results in an uneven but compelling film. The Mule never seems certain what to make of its title character, never sure how seriously it takes him. The result is to leave a lot of space for the audience to navigate their own reaction to the film’s cocaine-carted grandfather.

Not beaten yet.

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My 12 for ’18: Seeing It Again for the First Time in “First Man”

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number three.

It is difficult to separate First Man from the cultural war around it.

There is always at least one piece of awards fare that generates a storm in the proverbial teacup, often around hot-button political issues. La La Land was the most contentious Best Picture nominee of its awards cycle, generating heated debate around issues of identity and cultural appropriation. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the most controversial film the following year, most notably around its treatment of race and the portrayal of racism within local police departments.

First Man seems increasingly unlikely to secure a Best Picture nomination. This is likely in part due to its underwhelming box office performance, but also down to the toxic debate that has unfolded around it. It seems strange that the people so angry at First Man would be fine with the likely nomination of Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody in its stead, but that is another debate entirely. First Man was a film that was everything (and nothing) to everybody (and nobody), a seemingly impossible feat.

First Man notably had too few flags for Marco Rubio. First Man also notably had too many flags for Richard Brody. First Man had too little patriotism for Buzz Aldrin. First Man had too much patriotism for Slate film writer Mark Joseph Stern. This is a remarkable and notable accomplishment of itself. At a point when the world seems divided on absolutely everything, First Man seemed to unite both sides of the political spectrum in outrage. That is one giant leap, after all.

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