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New Escapist Column! On Matt Smith’s Complicated Men…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of House of the Dragon last weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at Matt Smith’s career. In particular, how the actor has cornered the market on a particularly modern take on masculinity.

As Daemon Targaryen, Smith was the breakout star of House of the Dragon. However, Daemon trypifies the kind of roles that Smith has been drawn towards in the years following his departure from Doctor Who. In projects as diverse as The Crown, Last Night in Soho and Charlie Says, Smith exemplifies a fascinatingly contradictory portrait of masculinity, one that is by turns alluring and pathetic, powerful and fragile, arrogant and insecure. Smith’s ability to play these conflicting facets off one another is what makes him such a compelling performer.

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

282. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (#67)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Jason Coyle and Aoife Martin, 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, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The unthinkable has happened. At the height of the Cold War, American bombers have been ordered to enter Russian airspace and deploy their ordinance at the order of General Jack D. Ripper. The President of the United States scrambles to stop the crisis from escalating further, but the situation becomes even bleaker when it is revealed that the Russians have just deployed a failsafe that could wipe out all life on Earth in case of a potential American attack. Powers on both sides of the Iron Curtain find themselves racing against time, with the fate of the world in their hands.

At time of recording, it was ranked 67th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “The Batman” as a Movie About Life Lived Behind Screens…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With The Batman continuing to perform well at the box office, it seemed like an opportunity to take another look at the film.

Much has been made of how much The Batman owes to David Fincher’s se7en and Zodiac. However, the film also owes a lot to the director’s work on both Fight Club and The Social Network. At its core, The Batman is a story about masculine violence and what happens when life is lived behind a screen. The result is a film that manages to riff on some of the most interesting films of the past quarter-century, filtering them through the lens of the superhero genre and reframing them for a modern context.

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

276. The Godfather: Part II (#3)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Deirdre Molumby and Brian Lloyd, 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, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II.

In 1901, Vito Andolini is evacuated from the small town of Corleone, fleeing to the new world in the hopes of a new life. In 1959, his son Michael Corleone continues his efforts to legitimise the family business. However, will Michael’s efforts to maintain control of the empire that Vito built ultimately lead to the collapse of what both men held most dear?

At time of recording, it was ranked 3rd on the list of the best 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.

261. Gladiator (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Stacy Grouden and Joe Griffin, 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, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

As Rome extends its dominion over the rest of the world, General Maximus Decimus Meridius dreams only of returning home to his family. However, fate has other plans. When Maximus winds up accidentally involved in a sinister conspiracy surrounding the beloved Emperor Marcus Aurelius, his entire life is thrown into chaos. Maximus finds himself abandoned and left for dead. Recovered by a slave trader, Maximus is sold to an older entertainment manager Proximo, who sees a lot of potential in “the Spaniard.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 44th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Last Duel

The Last Duel is a thorny and compelling medieval epic. It’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s undeniably part of the appeal.

The Last Duel is adapted from the book of the same name by historian Eric Jager. As its title implies, the film offers an account of the last judicial duel permitted by the Parlement of Paris. That duel was fought between two noblemen: Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris. The challenge was offered over allegations that Le Gris had raped de Carrouges’ wife, Maguerite. The assumption was that divine authority would ultimately determine where the truth lay in the matter, that the victor in this mortal combat would ultimately be vindicated.

Duel narratives.

Naturally, the events that inspired The Last Duel remain contentious. Historians are not entirely sure what happened, and how much of the various accounts reflect the truth of what happened or have been shaped by the convenient narratives of the victors. The film, with a screenplay from Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener, leans into this ambiguity. The film is structured similarly to Akira Kurosawa’s Roshomon, outlining three separate accounts of the events leading up to the trial from the perspective of each of the key figures: Jean, Jacques and Maguerite.

The result is a film that touches on the blurred boundaries between history and narrative, and explores the way in which these sorts of stories are shaped by wounded pride and vain ego. It’s an uncomfortable and unsettling film, occasionally a little clumsy in its execution, but which grapples with big ideas.

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New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Limits of a Changing Bond…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the American release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the movie’s ending, now that everybody has had a chance to see it.

One of the big questions hanging over Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond is the extent to which the character can evolve or change, whether he can grow with the times or must remain fixed in stone. In contrast to Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of James Bond as a professional who seemed to enjoy his work, Daniel Craig offered a more introspective version of the superspy, one who seemed to wonder about what he did and why he did it. As Craig’s final film in the role, No Time to Die has the opportunity to truly grapple with the question of whether Bond wants to change and whether he can change.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below. Note that the piece contains major spoilers.

New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Daniel Craig Era’s Understanding of James Bond as a Performance…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the looming release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the larger Daniel Craig era of James Bond.

One of the more striking aspects of Craig’s enure as the suave secret agent has been an understanding that James Bond is a performance as much as an actual human being. Bond is set of mannerisms and conventions, coming with a set of expectations and weight. Throughout Craig’s time playing the secret agent, there has been a fascination with that level of performance, and the question of what it entails to be trapped within that framework. It’s a very clever and very self-aware approach to a franchise that is almost sixty years old at this point.

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