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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.

New Escapist Video! “The Matrix Resurrections Is a Winning Franchise Revival – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. 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 Matrix Resurrections, which is in cinemas and on HBO Max now.

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 Video! “Spider-Man: No Way Home Is the Year’s Best Nostalgia Play – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. 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 Spider-Man: No Way Home, which is in cinemas now.

New Podcast! Rarely Going – “Star Trek: Prodigy 1×05 – Terror Firma”

Rarely Going is a podcast looking at the animated corner of the Star Trek franchise. I was thrilled to be invited to join guest host Tony Black for a discussion of the fifth episode of Star Trek: Prodigy, the latest animated spin-off.

I had not had a chance to watch Prodigy before Tony invited me on the show, so it was fun to catch up with the series. Tony and I have a broad discussion about animated Star Trek, about the current state of the larger Star Trek franchise, about whether Star Trek could be seen as “children’s television for grown-ups.” We talk about the importance of serving multiple audiences, and the nostalgic affection for Star Trek: Voyager within modern fandom, and what that might mean for the future of modern iterations.

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

Non-Review Review: Ghostbusters – Afterlife

In the final act of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, young Phoebe has a sudden realisation about the farm that her family has inherited from her eccentric grandfather. “This isn’t a farm,” she boasts. “It’s a trap.”

She could just as easily be talking about the film itself. Afterlife is a belated sequel to the original Ghostbusters, consigning Ghostbusters II to a weird continuity limbo where Ray still owns an occult bookstore but there’s no way that that the film’s climax could have happened. The film follows the family of Egon Spengler, his estranged daughter and her two grandchildren, who take ownership of his farm shortly after his death. Inevitably, the family unit learns that the eccentric patriarch who abandoned them in the middle of the night with no explanation really did love them all along.

Blast from the past.

Afterlife is suffocated in a reverential nostalgia that treats the original Ghostbusters as a fetish object. Sure, a casual audience member might watch Ghostbusters as an irreverent mid-eighties comedy that was cleverly skewing Reagan era values, but Afterlife instead sees an earnest classic of American cinema that deserves to be venerated and celebrated as a monument of popular culture. Much like Ivo Shandor erected the skyscraper at 55 Central Park West as a tribute to the Cult of Gozer, Afterlife has been erected as a monument to the cult of Ghostbusters.

It’s telling that the movie’s subtitle is “Afterlife” rather than “Resurrection.” This is not a movie about breathing new life into an existing property. It’s not about finding anything new or interesting to do with these characters or concepts. Instead, it’s about finding a way to tap into the audience’s desire for Ghostbusters nostlagia as a way to wring a few more dollars. In its own way, Afterlife is as cynical as Peter Venkeman in the original Ghostbusters, but at least Venkeman had the decency not to disguise his ruthless pragmatism as earnest sentiment.

Kidding around.

Afterlife is a nightmare coloured in shades of sepia-tinted nostalgia. It is a story about how the best that children can ever hope to accomplish is to emulate their forebearers, foresaking any identity of their own as they grapple with problems that their grandparents singularly failed to resolve. It is a story about how even death is not enough to remove a respected actor and writer from his obligations to a piece of intellectual property, and a reminder of how easily the dead can be animated to serve the demands of the living.

In the world of Afterlife, the dead exist to satisfy the living. This isn’t nostalgia, it is necrophilia.

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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.

Non-Review Review: Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho is a fascinating snapshot of the siren lure of nostalgia, and how it is so often filtered through a presumptive male gaze.

Last Night in Soho follows a young student named Eloise who moves to London for the first time to follow her dream of becoming a fashion designer. After some tensions with her roommate, Eloise moves out of her apartment into a small bedsit, with warnings that past tenants have had some strange experiences in the flat – disappearing in the dead of night, as if fleeing from something that shares the space. Eloise has always been sensitive to otherworldly presences, and it is no surprise when she seems to connect with the memories imprinted in her new bedroom.

Who nose?

Night after night, Eloise is seduced by memories of a young woman named Sandy, who came to London to pursue her own ambitions of becoming a singer. Sandy met a handsome talent agent named Jack, who promises that he can make all of her dreams come true. As Eloise sinks deeper into this nostalgic fantasies of the swinging sixties, she notices that the lines are begin blur – between her waking moments and her sleeping thoughts, between herself and the girl who visits her at night, between dreams and nightmares.

At its core, Last Night in Soho is a meditation on the idea that it is not always so easy to escape the past.

Bad romance.

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Non-Review Review: Fear Street Part One – 1994

Nostalgia is a strange creature, by turns deceptive and revealing.

Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, based on an original story inspired by the books written by R.L. Stine, is effectively a loving slice of horror nostalgia and a trip through slasher movie history. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is very obviously an effort to take the genre back to its roots, evoking classics like Halloween or Black Christmas, and with its summer camp setting directly inviting comparisons to Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th, Part II. Similarly, Fear Street Part One: 1994 is clearly constructed as a loving homage to the slasher revival of the nineties, to films like Scream, Urban Legends or I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Skull Kill Crew…

In some ways Fear Street feels like a companion to that other big Netflix nostalgia property, Stranger Things. The three films are directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak, who is married to Stranger Things co-creator Ross Duffer. Like Stranger Things, there is a strong sense that Fear Street Part One: 1994 is aimed at a generation of viewers too young to remember the era firsthand. As such, Fear Street Part One: 1994 doesn’t feel like an attempt to accurately recreate the era so much as provide a cartoonish snapshot. It captures the pop memory of the period much more than the reality.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is an appealing slice of genre nostalgia populated with a charming cast and an appealing high concept, albeit one that is occasionally so preoccupied by its broad brush strokes that it misses the final details. Then again, that is how nostalgia often works. Ironically, Fear Street Part One: 1994 probably has less to say about the genre than the movies that it is invoking.

“I have a bone to pick with you.”

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