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New Escapist Column! On How Hollywood Learned the Wrong Lessons from “The Force Awakens”…

I published a new column at The Escapist this evening. With the recent releases of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of SkywalkerGhostbusters: Afterlife and Spider-Man: No Way Home, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the strange and distorted legacy of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens was a massively successful and popular film. It broke domestic box office records. It also provided a new model for revitalising existing franchises, bringing together members of the older generation with younger leads to hand the torch from one generation to the next. However, Hollywood took many of the wrong lessons from The Force Awakens, and came to prioritise the resurrection of older characters over the development of these younger generations.

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

New Escapist Column! On Squaring the Circle with Nostalgic Sequels Like “The Rise of Skywalker” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the larger trend of the modern nostalgia sequels, and the paradoxes at play within the genre.

By their very nature, belated sequels like Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens require the heroes to have left something unfinished or undone for years or even decades. Often, this involves forcing the heroes’ children to effectively grapple with the exact same problem that haunted their parents. There’s a recurring theme of generational failure running through these stories, a sense that the failure of these older heroes to wrap up their own stories exists at odds with the nostalgia that powers such stories.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Ghostbusters”, and How Irreverence Became a Source of Reverence…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at the original Ghostbusters.

The original Ghostbusters was a wry and cynical movie about three academics who find themselves forced to work in the public sector, and so start a business busting ghosts in a run-down and decaying New York City. The film was very self-aware and very glib, essentially built around the idea that three men who would be con artists in any other situation were able to come out on top in eighties America. However, in the years since, Ghostbusters has become an institution. What was once irreverent is now venerated, without any of the self-awareness that made the first film so compelling.

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

252. Platoon (#222)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guest 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, Oliver Stone’s Platoon.

In late 1967, Chris Taylor volunteers for service in Vietnam. Arriving in country, Taylor quickly discovers that the war is not what he expected. As the platoon descends into civil war, Taylor finds himself torn between the two sergeants: the monstrous Barnes and the philosophical Elias. Taylor discovers that he might not just be fighting for his life, but for his very soul.

At time of recording, it was ranked 222nd on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “Candyman” is About Art About Trauma…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film and the larger franchise.

Much has been written in recent years about the recent explosion of African American horror, and the relationship between that horror and the very real trauma experienced by that community. What’s particularly interesting about Candyman is that the movie is very much engaged with that debate. In an era where so many movies and television shows purport to be “about trauma”, Candyman is explicitly a movie about art about horror, and the thorny questions that stem from that relationship.

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

Non-Review Review: Reminiscence

Reminiscence is an intriguing concept in desperate need of a stronger execution.

Reminiscence marks the feature film directorial debut of Lisa Joy, the co-creator of Westworld. In some ways, this is revealing. It often seems like the best version of Reminiscence might be a television pilot, a two-hour feature-length exploration of a futuristic dystopia that lays a lot of groundwork to be explored by later episodes and seasons. It’s very clear that Joy has put a lot of thought into the world of Reminiscence, about how it works and how it developed, and why it turned out the way it did. All of that work is either on-screen or blasted over the audio system via helpful voiceover exposition.

On the record.

Unfortunately, Reminiscence struggles to devote any real energy to its actual narrative or characters. Reminiscence is clearly constructed as an affectionate homage to classic film noir, in everything from its production design to its plot structure to its thematic concerns. However, it lacks the richness and the complexity that distinguishes the best of the genre. Instead, because so much time is spent explaining and re-explaining the mechanics of the world, everything else feels like a thinly-drawn sketch.

Reminiscence often feels like the faded memory of a much more engaging film.

Shining a light on it.

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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.

“The Blood Stays on the Blade”: The Birth of a Nation in Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Kundun. This week, we’re looking at Gangs of New York. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but it spurred some of my own thoughts about Martin Scorsese’s complicated and messy 2002 passion project.

Martin Scorsese had wanted to make Gangs of New York for over thirty years.

The director had reportedly stumbled across a copy of Herbert Asbury’s book while house-sitting for a friend over New Year in 1970. Gangs of New York became one of the projects that Scorsese desperately wanted to make, alongside The Last Temptation of Christ, which had been given to him by Barbara Hershey on the set of Boxcar Bertha. Of course, Scorsese would not get to make either The Last Temptation of Christ or Gangs of New York during the seventies. Instead, the implosion of New York, New York would set his plans back years.

Scorsese had reportedly been hoping to make either The Last Temptation of Christ or Gangs of New York following the release of New York, New York, when Robert DeNiro convinced him to direct Raging Bull instead. Scorsese would spend the eighties adapting to the collapse of the New Hollywood movement, and would just about manage to get The Last Temptation of Christ produced. He never gave up on Gangs of New York, and the film went through various iterations over the years. It might have starred Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd or Mel Gibson and Willem Dafoe.

When the possibility of making Gangs of New York emerged in the late nineties, it might have seemed like a culmination. As the project lurched closer and closer to actually materialising, it must have seemed like it would be one of Scorsese’s last major motion pictures. After all, Scorsese was almost sixty. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the only two other “movie brats” who were still making high-profile and big-budget films. There was perhaps a sense that Scorsese might just about have this film left in him, before retiring to less mainstream and more esoteric works.

While Scorsese had entered the nineties on a high note with Goodfellas, the films that followed were not as universally welcomed. Roger Ebert complained about “a certain impersonality” in Cape Fear, the film following Goodfellas. The Age of Innocence arrived with a shrug. Casino was treated as highly derivative of Goodfellas, with Peter Travers sighing that “the black cloud of letdown hung over Scorsese’s epic tale.” Kundun sparked a diplomatic incident with China, and was quietly buried by Disney. Bringing Out the Dead felt like a curiosity more than a classic.

Of course, history has been kind to all (or at least most) of those films. Scorsese’s nineties output is recognised in hindsight as a vibrant and important part of his career. Nevertheless, as Gangs of New York slowly and awkwardly forced itself into being, it might have looked like the last swing of the bat from one of the great American directors. A film that had been simmering in the director’s imagination for decades, it might serve as a definitive and concluding statement about the city and the nation that he loved.

More than twenty years after the shutters came down on the New Hollywood movement, Scorsese would finally get to make an epic that was comparable to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Of course, those sorts of projects feel like capstones – Heaven’s Gate famously brought United Artists tumbling down, while Coppola would never direct anything with as much freedom or cultural impact after Apocalypse Now. As such, Scorsese’s long-delayed shot at making his epic passion project seemed like closure.

Looking back at Gangs of New York, this seems absurd. Almost two decades after Gangs of New York, Scorsese is still making films. Scorsese is enjoying larger budgets on films like The Irishman and The Killers of the Flower Moon than he did earlier in his career. If anything, Gangs of New York is a watershed. It is not Scorsese’s epic finale, but is instead the first in a series of epics that includes films like The Aviator or The Wolf of Wall Street. It introduced Scorsese to a young actor who “reignited” his enthusiasm for film making.

Indeed, time has been very kind to Gangs of New York. The film seemed to arrive at a crucial moment, both for Scorsese as director and for the United States as a nation. Gangs of New York offers a snapshot of American history that resonates strongly. It is not so much a historical picture as a dive into the depths of a shared unconscious and an excavation of the scars left on the American psyche. The catchy Oscar-nominated theme song might have boasted that the film was about “the hands that built America”, but the film was decidedly less optimistic in its perspective.

Gangs of New York is a story about the blood that stains those hands, and how history tends to repeat for those who refuse to learn from it.

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New Escapist Column! On the Cynical Honesty of “Terminator: Genisys”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Terminator: Genisys turned five years old this month, so it seemed like the right time to take a look back at the third (of four) attempts to make a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Genisys has been largely forgotten, even overridden by the next film in the saga – Terminator: Dark Fate. This makes sense. Genisys itself overrode the previous two films on its own terms. Still, Genisys is an instructive and informative piece of blockbuster cinema. It’s a messy film, but in that messiness there’s an honesty. Genisys is a film that is naked in its ambition and its intent, in its efforts to reiterate and regurgitate the past while erasing any potential evolution. It’s a film that captures the emptiness of modern franchise filmmaking at its most cynical, and its most honest.

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

 

Escapist Column! “It: Chapter 2” and the Dangers of Nostalgia…

Another In the Frame column from Escapist Magazine!

This time, taking a look at the recent release of It: Chapter 2, and what the film has to say about the gulf between memory and history. It: Chapter 2 is a story about coming home, and processing the reality of what happened, so that it can be truly put to rest.

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