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New Escapist Video! “Jupiter’s Legacy – Review in 3 Minutes”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of the new Jupiter’s Legacy series that is now available on Netflix.

New Escapist Column! On Young Adult Movies Operating Under Star Power…

I published a new column at The Escapist earlier in the week. With the release of Shadow and Bone on Netflix last week, it seemed a good opportunity to take a look at the state of the young adult in modern Hollywood. in particular, the ways in which the genre is dependent on an ineffable star quality.

The young adult boom really kicked off with the Harry Potter series. However, not all the adaptations that followed succeeded. Looking back over the various attempts to tap into that market, it becomes clear that the series that triumphed tended to share one key factor: lead performers who had genuine movie star charisma and energy.

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

New Escapist Video! “Shadow and Bone – Review in 3 Minutes”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute television review of the new Netflix streaming series Shadow and Bone.

Non-Review Review: Thunder Force

There is a recurring joke in Thunder Force about how one character cannot tell a joke. It feels like a metaphor for the film itself.

To be fair, it’s more than just the premise of that joke itself, it is also the execution. The opening section of Thunder Force offers something of an origin story for its two lead characters, Lydia and Emily. The two meet at school. At school, their only other friend is a geeky kid named Clyde. In these flashbacks, Clyde is introduced with an obvious crush on Lydia, and an inability to tell a joke properly. When the film rejoins Lydia in adulthood, Clyde is quickly reintroduced and still unable to tell a joke properly.

A thundering disappointment.

The basic law of comedy – or storytelling – would suggest that this is a plot point being set up so that it might pay off. It is the standard “rule of three.” A concept is introduced to the audience. It is then repeated to establish it. Then, finally, it is subverted. It is that third iteration of the concept that serves as a punchline. It’s the heart of the joke. Instead, Clyde just disappears from the film. His inability to tell a joke is ultimately just an inability to tell a joke. It eats up screentime in building this world, and doesn’t go anywhere.

There’s something almost fourth-wall-breaking in this. It’s a joke about how a character in this movie cannot tell a joke, told in such a way that it isn’t really a joke either. It’s a moment that captures so much of Thunder Force, albeit in an unflattering light. It is also, much like the rest of Thunder Force, painfully unfunny.

The script could use a punch-up.

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Non-Review Review: Malcolm and Marie

The reactions to Malcolm and Marie have been divided, to the say the least.

On one extreme, some critics have been quick to laud Sam Levinson’s black-and-white character study as a surprise late addition to the awards race, a bracing old-fashioned character drama anchored in two compelling performances that interrogates a relationship that never seems certain whether it will implode or explode. It is the kind of film that invites comparisons to works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band or even something like Autumn Sonata: characters trapped in a confined space, with the drama ready to boil over.

On the other extreme, critics have been quick to argue that Malcolm and Marie is an indulgent mess anchored in a grossly unlikeable and shallow protagonist that never digs beneath the skin of its central characters. More than that, Levinson seems to use the film as an opportunity to work through his own issues as a promising (and privileged) young filmmaker who feels like he has not necessarily been given the critical respect that he deserves. Malcolm and Marie is a series of self-serious monologues delivered in the aesthetic of a (very pretty) Calvin Klein commercial.

As ever, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

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New Escapist Column! On How Netflix Failed the Punisher…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. With WandaVision launching this weekend, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at Marvel’s first foray into streaming, their Netflix series.

The Punisher was the last entry into the shared Netflix Marvel Universe, starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle. However, what’s interesting about The Punisher on Netflix is the extent to which the series is reluctant to let Frank Castle… be Frank Castle, to wallow in what makes the Punisher such a challenging and unsettled character. In contrast, the series reframes Frank as a much mroe generic streaming hero, stripping out anything that makes the character particularly compelling or engaging.

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

New Escapist Column! A Look Back at The First Season of “Daredevil”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With WandaVision launching this weekend, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at Marvel’s first foray into streaming.

The series produced by Netflix are largely forgotten and overlooked in histories of the shared universe, which makes sense given that they operated at a remove from contemporaneous features like Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War. However, when it originally premiered, the first season of Daredevil was jaw-dropping. It was bold and ambitious in a way that stood apart from the rest of the live action content associated with the studio. Marvel Studios could learn a lot from it as they return to the medium.

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

Non-Review Review: Outside the Wire

Outside the Wire often feels like Netflix resurrected Cannon Films, and tasked them with remaking Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Training Day, without any constraints in terms of logic or internal consistency.

Outside the Wire is a bad film, but it is a bad film in somewhat interesting ways. This is not the dull lifeless quality of Wild Mountain Thyme. It is instead the gonzo “throw everything at the wall, regardless of how it fits together” energy of a film like Serenity or Book of Henry. It is a film that makes a number of bizarre choices that often seem to confusingly double back on one another, to the point that any review of the film inevitably comes across as a deranged play-by-play rather than coherent criticism.

“You’re a droid, and I’m a ‘noid.”

Outside the Wire is set in Eastern Europe in the distant future of 2037, as a new Cold War brews between Russia and the United States, raging as a proxy war in the Ukraine. (It perhaps says something about the state of current politics that this reference feels very dated.) Lieutenant Thomas Harp is a drone pilot. During a routine assignment, he breaks the chain of command and fires a missile that kills two servicemen. As a penalty, Harp is assigned to active duty on the frontier.

This is a fairly standard set-up. It recalls movies that meditate on the morality of drone warfare, like Good Kill or Eye in the Sky. Indeed, as Harp arrives on site, the commanding officer outlines the brutal cynicism of this punishment. “You’re here because somebody deemed the dollar value of your training to be higher than the lives of those two men. If you survive, air force keeps a pilot. If you die, you’re a cautionary tale to all the other fly-by-wire assholes.” The stakes are grounded, logical. The moral at play is clear. Harp is going to learn what war is really like.

Robot Wars.

Then, in the space of three minutes, Harp is assigned to work with an officer named “Leo.” Leo is an oddity. “He’s not like us,” the commanding officer warns. Leo works alone in a large office, filled with records. He listens to vinyl music. He types on an analogue keyboard. Within minutes of arriving, Leo has already conscripted Harp on a covert mission behind enemy lines. It initially seems like Leo is planning to deliver a set of vaccines to a local children’s hospital. “So you’re hearts and minds, sir?” Harp asks. Leo replies, “Yes, I’m hearts and minds. Ostensibly.”

It turns out that the vaccine run that Harp has been assigned moments after arriving to his first active deployment is actually a clandestine strike mission to take out local war lord Victor Koval. Koval is plotting to take control of the Ukrainian nuclear arsenal, and Leo is committed to stopping that from happening. Leo walks Harp through an elaborate exposition machine, involving photo plays and interactive maps. There’s a lot of elaborate detail, but the mission is clear. This is a “save the world” buddy movie.

And then Leo takes off his shirt, and reveals that he is android. All of this is twenty minutes into the film.

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New Escapist Column! On “Cobra Kai” and the Future of the “Netflix Bump”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Because the new season of Cobra Kai arrived on Netflix last week, I thought it was worth taking a look at the show’s relationship to Netflix.

Cobra Kai is just the latest in a series of shows that have been “saved” by the streaming service, with earlier seasons struggling on other providers only for Netflix to find an audience and even take up the bill; Arrested Development, You, Lucifer and so on. However, things are changing. As companies like YouTube bow out of the streaming wars and as companies like NBC begin consolidating their broadcast and streaming wings, there’s both fewer of these gems produced and less room for Netflix to get the ones that are produced to larger audience.

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

Non-Review Review: Pieces of a Woman

If only Pieces of a Woman were interested in allocating more space to its central female character.

Pieces of a Woman is notable as Vanessa Kirby’s first cinematic lead role. The actor has a long career in theatre and on television, and has made an impression with a couple of strong supporting turns in blockbusters like Mission: Impossible – Fallout or Hobbs and Shaw. However, Pieces of a Woman marks the first time that Kirby takes centre stage, and the film gives her the juicy role of a young woman trying to come to terms with a home birth that ended in tragedy, as her life falls to pieces around her.

Where’s LaBeouf?

Kirby is great in Pieces of a Woman, offering a central performance that is layered and nuanced, one that often opts for interiority instead of extroversion. It’s a quiet performance, but a rich one. Kirby deserves a lot of credit for her work. However, Pieces of a Woman refuses to give Kirby’s performance the credit that it deserves, instead drowning out that powerhouse dramatic in a sea of prestige drama clichés and larger-than-life supporting turns from actors like Shia LeBeouf. Kirby winds up somewhat lost in a film that should be centred on her, through no fault of her own.

If Pieces of a Woman is a story of a fractured response to grief, it often feels like some of the pieces get lost because the film has no real interest in looking.

Pregnant pause.

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