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New Escapist Column! On “Hannibal” as the Perfect Adaptation…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With Hannibal premiering on Netflix and generating a host of new appraisals and discussions, connecting with a new generation of fans, I thought it might be worth looking at Bryna Fuller’s television masterpiece.

In an era dominated by recycled intellectual property, remakes and reboots, it would have been easy to be cynical about another adaptation of Thomas Harris’ seminal serial killer novels, particularly given how severely the film franchise had degenerated since the triumph of Silence of the Lambs. However, Bryan Fuller used Hannibal as a showcase for a particularly ambitious and inventive approach to adaptation, one that used an existing set of iconography in new and innovative ways. Hannibal was the perfect adaptation of a familiar property, breathing new life into it.

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

Non-Review Review: The Old Guard

The Old Guard works best as a nostalgic throwback to turn-of-the-millennium action movies, and struggles awkwardly when it tries to be a modern superhero blockbuster.

The Old Guard is adapted by writer Greg Rucka from the Image Comics series that he created with artist Leandro Fernandez. The story focuses on a group of immortal warriors who have worked at the margins of human history for centuries, making small differences wherever they can while trying to stay out of the spotlight. It’s a pretty solid premise with a lot of narrative potential, and it could easily branch in any number of directions.

Immortal narrative engines.

The best and worst thing about The Old Guard is that it insists on branching in various competing directions. It often feels like three or four different movies that have been edited down into a fairly conventional and generic structure. By turns, The Old Guard tries to be a character study about the weight of immortality, a franchise-launching origin story, a criticism of modern hyper-capitalism, a solemn meditation on what it means to do good in a fallen world, and an old-fashioned kick-ass action movie with a pretty neat soundtrack.

To the credit of The Old Guard, it manages to avoid embarrassing itself too badly while trying to serve all of those competing impulses. However, that balance comes at a cost. None of the central ideas in The Old Guard are ever truly explored or developed, because that might mean that some other angle would get a short shrift. The result is an action film that is largely functional, which isn’t entirely satisfying but is also never completely frustrating. It’s a solid and sturdy film that largely avoids a potential identity crisis by declining to commit to a single identity.

An axe-soldier.

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Non-Review Review: Sergio

Sergio belongs to the same school of earnest, overwrought, tonally misjudged, narratively unfocused, clumsily paced biopics that includes Noble, The Price of Desire and A Girl from Mogadishu.

This films offer heartwarming stories about truly exceptional individuals. There is undoubtedly value in that. However, the genre often confuses subject for substance. These biographies assume that the story they are telling is so compelling and so engaging that the actual art of storytelling doesn’t matter, that the basic mechanics of constructing a satisfying narrative or balancing a consistent tone or finding an interesting hooks are fundamentally less important than the simple fact that they are about something that makes them inherently “worthy.” Worthy of attention, worthy of praise, worthy of time.

“You can’t spell U.N. with U.”

Sergio certainly tells a story that is worth telling. It is an adaptation of the life of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations diplomat. By all accounts, de Mello was a genuinely exceptional person who made a very real and very tangible difference to the world. There is a compelling story to be told here, a life that is worthy of study and discussion. Indeed, director Greg Barker seems to think so. Sergio is Barker’s first narrative feature, and it serves as a companion piece to his 2009 documentary of the same title. It’s easy to understand why Barker was so drawn to the subject.

Unfortunately, Sergio is a complete misfire. It is a disaster. It is a clumsily constructed film with no strong sense of identity or purpose, with little to say about its central character or his circumstances beyond “this was a remarkable person.” However, even that is communicated through exposition and information dumps rather than through actual storytelling.

“You wanna live like common people.
You wanna see whatever common people see.”

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167. Marriage Story – This Just In (#225)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Tara Brady and Donald Clarke, 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, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story.

Charlie and Nicole had an ideal marriage, until they didn’t. Unsatisfied with her marriage, Nicole decides to separate from her husband Charlie. The couple agree to keep things amicable, but the situation quickly escalates as Charlie finds him completely unprepared for the process that will follow.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 225th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Horse Girl

Horse Girl is certainly an ambitious work, if not an entirely successful one.

Directed by Jeff Baena and co-written with star Alison Brie, Horse Girl is essentially a study of a socially awkward young woman who gradually loosens her grip on reality. Sarah is a charming and isolated young woman. She works a steady job at an arts and crafts shop, to which she seems quite suited – she’s immediately able to identify the best paint for a classroom setting. She lives with a roommate who clearly harbours some affection for her. She assists at the local stables. She even attends weekly dance fitness classes.

Horsing around.

However, beneath the surface, Sarah is increasingly isolated. She lives in a world of her own, absorbed in her supernatural procedurals, lying about the extent of her social circle, and haunted by dreams that don’t seem quite right. Sarah increasingly begins to feel that there is something very wrong with the world, as she experiences lost time and lucid dreams. Naturally, things only escalate from there.

Horse Girl plays with some interesting ideas, and approaches its subject matter in interesting ways, but it suffers a little bit too much from a suffocating sense of forced whimsy. Horse Girl premiered at Sundance, and for all its ambition, it is very much a “Sundance indie.” There is constantly a sense of a more interesting film bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to get out, but never quite able to materalise beneath the trappings of its own particular brand of independent cinema.

Getting it all back to front.

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New Escapist Column! On Uncanny Valley of “The Witcher” Between Prestige and Tradition…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine the week before last, looking at the Netflix streaming show The Witcher.

There are a lot of interesting things about the eight episode introductory season of The Witcher, which is adapted from two books of short stories and which seems to exist largely to set the table for more impressive seasons to follow. However, what is most immediately striking about The Witcher is the way in which it exists in the uncanny valley between modern prestige television and a more traditional model of episodic storytelling, looking like a hybrid of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Game of Thrones. To be clear, this is not a bad thing.

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

New Escapist Column! On “The Witcher” and True Monstrosity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week, looking at the Netflix streaming show The Witcher.

The Witcher is an interesting show, the story of a monster hunter who drifts through a magical world that seems caught on the cusp of war. The first season is very broad and largely episodic, but it does have a clear thematic through line. The series plays with the tropes and conventions of the fantasy genre, but most pointed with the idea of monstrosity. The Witcher is the story of a man who kills monsters, but also a story about how sometimes true monstrosity comes in human form.

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

163. Klaus – This Just In/Christmas 2020 (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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, a belated Christmas treat. Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López’s Klaus.

Exiled to the remote island of Smeerensberg, postal employee Jesper comes up with an elaborate plan to inspire the locals to write the six thousand letters that he’ll need to earn back his life of luxury. However, Jesper doesn’t count on the ways in which he’ll change the lives of the island’s inhabitants, including a lonely and isolated woodsman named Klaus who makes children’s toys.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 176th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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157. Ford v. Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) – This Just In (#156)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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, James Mangold’s Ford v. Ferrari.

In response to the worst sales slump in American history, the Ford Motor Company embraces a radical idea: it will build a car to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, in order to do that, it needs to recruit and work with two radicals who have their own unique approach to engineering and racing, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. These two mavericks soon discover that their allies in Ford might be as dangerous as their enemies at Ferrari.

At time of recording, it was ranked 156th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Klaus

Around midway through Klaus, the film’s title character has an introspective moment. The film’s protagonist, a wiry and self-interested postman named Jesper, has decided that Klaus need not settle for delivering the toys that he has already handcrafted. Instead, Klaus could fashion new toys for all the boys and girls of the local community. Klaus’ mood darkens. He stares off into middle distance. “I don’t make toys,” he tells Jesper, in an understated manner. After a beat, he clarifies, “Not anymore.”

It is a very strange moment for a family-friendly animated movie that promises a glimpse at the origin story of Christmas. It obviously hints at a dark and traumatic back story for the muscular woodsman. Klaus has experienced things. It is the children’s movie equivalent of the shell-shocked combat veteran, of Sylvester Stallone retreating from his failure at the start of Cliffhanger or Sergeant Powell having sworn off the use of his sidearm in Die Hard. What horrors could Klaus have experienced that would have made him stop designing adorable handcrafted toys for children?

Snow bad ideas.

It’s a very weird beat, one that feels all the weird for the way in which it tonally clashes with the more openly absurd slapstick elements of the plot or the occasional nods to contemporary pop culture. Klaus is a very odd film, which seems to have little idea of what it actually wants to be. It is a mishmash of themes and influences, awkwardly bouncing between various extremes and never settling on any one long enough to find a grove. It’s a film that really needed more time on the original story break and scripting phases, requiring a stronger vision of what exactly Klaus is supposed to be.

This is a shame, because Klaus looks absolutely gorgeous.

Making a play for the animation market.

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