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New Escapist Column! On the Radical Empathy of “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. With the release of Glass Onion in theatres, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about Benoit Blanc, the film’s protagonist.

Glass Onion is built around the idea of murder mysteries and puzzleboxes. However, like Knives Out before it, the film is something of a criticism of a rigidly rationalist approach to detective fiction, of the idea that solving a crime is a strictly mechanical process. Instead, both Knives Out and Glass Onions are movies about the importance of empathy and humanism in understanding the true moral nature of crime. This is most obvious in Benoit Blanc, who is introduced as an outside observer of these crimes, but cannot escape their gravity.

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

New Escapist Column! On “1899” and the Problems of Abstraction…

I published a new piece at The Escapist over the weekend. Last week saw the release of Netflix’s 1899, a surreal mystery thriller from the creative minds behind Dark.

1899 is an impressive show in many ways, a multilingual series with a diverse cast, that is also the most expensive television show ever made in Germany. It is packed with big ideas, and grapples with heady themes, without ever stopping to apologise for itself or condescend to its audience. There’s undoubtedly something appealing in that. However, there’s a strange coldness to the show, a detachment that makes it very hard to emotionally invest in the series as anything more than an intellectual exercise.

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

New Escapist Video! On “The Rings of Power” and the Limits of the Franchise-Era Mystery Box…

We’re thrilled to be launching a fortnightly video companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch every second Monday, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel. And the video will typically be separate from the written content. 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 week, we took a look at The Rings of Power, the prequel series to The Lord of the Rings. In particular, the way that it is built around so many mystery boxes. It’s a problem facing a lot of modern franchise media, where these shows attempt to keep audiences hooked by building elaborate mystery boxes around established lore. The mystery box was a problem for early serialized television at the turn of the millennium, and it is a shame to see it return in the streaming age of franchise media, where the answer is always nostalgia.

292. Jai Bhim (#249)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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, T. J. Gnanavel’s Jai Bhim.

When a tribal woman’s husband goes missing in police custody, she has no option but to turn to a civil rights lawyer named Chandru. Eager to help his client find her abducted husband, Chandru stumbles upon a web of police brutality and violence that extends far deeper than he initially expected. What Chandru uncovers will change Indian society forever.

At time of recording, it was ranked 249th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On The Enduring Appeal of Michael Myers…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Halloween Kills, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the larger Halloween franchise.

What is it that makes Michael Myers such an enduring and unsettling figure? Why has the character remained so popular and iconic across four decades? Why are audiences constantly drawn to the serial killer, who is remarkably straightforward in many ways? Indeed, it seems like the relative simplicity of Michael Myers is part of the appeal. Myers is somewhat uncomplicated as far as slasher movie antagonists go. However, he is also fundamentally unknowable, and all the more effective for that.

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

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 7, Episode 11 (“Closure”)

The X-Cast is covering the seventh season of The X-Files. It’s an interesting and divisive season of the show, a season that seems to have been intended to serve as the end of the show’s run, but is now closer to the middle of the series’ run. Although the sixth season had wrapped up a lot of the mythology in Two Fathers and One Son, the seventh season still had some tidying up to do. I was thrilled to join Carl Sweeney and Chris Knowles for an episode doing some of that tidying up: Closure.

Samantha Mulder had haunted the show since the very beginning. In The Pilot and Conduit, Samantha’s mysterious disappearance was positioned as the reason for Mulder’s quest. Over the years, in episodes like Colony and End Game or Redux II, Samantha remained pivotal to the show’s central mythology. She was perhaps the biggest remaining plot thread as the show entered its seventh season. Closure is an attempt to wrap up that dangling plot thread, and to provide a satisfying answer once and for all to one of the show’s biggest remaining mysteries.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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171. Knives Out – This Just In (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Alex Towers and Luke Dunne, 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, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

The apparent suicide of noted mystery author Harlan Thrombley attracts the attention of consulting gentleman detective Benoit Blanc. Interviewing the deceased man’s family, Blanc finds a nest of vipers hiding in plain sight and comes to suspect that Harlan has been victim of murder most foul.

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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165. Gisaengchung (Parasite) – This Just In (#34)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, 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, Boon Joon Ho’s Gisaengchung.

Drafted in to tutor the daughter of a rich South Korean family, the lower-class Kim Ki-woo enacts a cunning plan that will allow his entire family to infiltrate the lavish Park household. However, things quickly spiral out of control, leading to unpredictable chaos and disaster.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 34th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Knives Out

Knives Out is a sharp and point “whodunnit” for the post-truth era.

The most obvious point of reference for Knives Out is the work of Agatha Christie, although the film itself includes allusions to CSI, Murder, She Wrote and other generic procedural television show. There is a mysterious death inside a luxurious mansion, with a wealthy family who seemed ready to tear themselves apart even before the loss of their patriarch. An outside investigator finds himself drawn to the case, which begins to unravel as he follows each of threads back towards something resembling the truth.

Drawing a Blanc.

The beauty of Knives Out lies in the way in which writer and director Rian Johnson takes the familiar framework of a mystery story and allows it to descend into anarchy. Knives Out is constantly twisting and turning, zigging and zagging. Nothing is ever what it appears to be, and as more evidence comes to light it seems like nobody has any real idea of where the truth actual lies – including both the dogged private investigator trying to fashion order from chaos and even the killer themselves. Knives Out often feels like a wry, clever thriller about how nobody knows nothing.

In other words, Knives Out is the perfect murder mystery for this particular moment, in every possible way. This extends beyond the films obvious topical allusions and central themes, and is even woven into the manner in which the story unfolds.

To coin a phrase…

Note: This review will contain (or even allude to) very basic spoilers for Knives Out. Nothing too big or too specific. However, if you don’t want to be spoiled and are just here for the headline: Go see it. Then come back and read the review, if you want. Continue reading

Star Trek: Discovery – Choose Your Pain (Review)

Choose Your Pain is perhaps the most traditional episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date, at least in terms of basic structure.

One of the central tensions of Discovery has been trying to figure out exactly how much to modernise the standard Star Trek storytelling template, the basic model of storytelling that has been in play through Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. These shows were produced over an eighteen-year period running from the second half of the eighties through to the turn of the millennium. However, a lot has happened in the twelve years since These Are the Voyages…

Avenging angel Gabriel.

Quite simply, television has changed phenomenally over the past decade. A number of these changes are obvious even in the way that Discovery is produced. After all, Discovery is the first Star Trek show to premiere on a streaming service. However, Discovery also conforms to other expectations of contemporary television. Discovery is much more tightly serialised than The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Discovery is also the shortest season of Star Trek ever produced.

There is a sense that times are changing, and that Discovery is attempting to provide an early twenty-first century update to a thirty-year-old template. After all, no other Star Trek series opened its first season with a two-episode prologue before introducing its core setting and premise. No other Star Trek series feature as many extended sequences with characters speaking subtitled Klingon. No other Star Trek series has featured swear words like “piss”, “sh!t” or “f$@k.” These are all new frontiers for televised Star Trek.

An echo chamber.

At the same time, Discovery has proven itself remarkably conservative in other respects. Although the show is very clearly serialised, the production team have worked hard to ensure that each individual episode has its own plot with its own structure and its own agenda. Unlike other streaming dramas, the episodes of Discovery are clear and distinct from one another, each serving as a bullet point in the overall arc of the season. Similarly, Discovery has made a point to use standard Star Trek narratives imbued with standard Star Trek morals built in.

For all the noise being made in certain quarters of the internet that Discovery is not really a Star Trek series, Choose Your Pain is the most conservative and old-fashioned episode of the series to date. Choose Your Pain is an episode that could easily have worked as part of Deep Space Nine or Enterprise, preserving the structure and rhythm with only a few minor tweaks along the way. Ironically, the episode’s biggest issue is that it feels just a little bit too much like classic Star Trek.

Here’s Mudd in your eye.

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