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New Escapist Video! On How “Star Trek” Gave Up on the Future…

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 be completely 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.

With the end of the second season of Star Trek: Picard and the launch of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the larger Star Trek franchise, which has become increasingly backwards-looking in recent decades. While a lot of fans will place the blame on the franchise’s more recent output, the truth is that this nostalgic impulse took root much earlier than many fas will acknowledge.

New Escapist Column! On the Dearth of the Monoculture…

I published a new column at The Escapist earlier this week. It’s been an interesting few weeks and months in terms of pop culture. There’s been a lot of debate about critics and the role of critics, there’s been a lot of news about pop culture that the internet doesn’t seem too excited about, and there’s been a lot of coverage about mundane aspects of The Batman.

All of these things speak to an interesting and ongoing anxiety about the “monoculture”, the idea of pieces of pop culture that are seismic enough to become part of the shared vernacular. The pandemic has had a number of major impacts on the production and the consumption of popular culture, and part of that has been an increasing sense of disconnect from a shared sense of the monoculture. However, is the monoculture truly dead? Or is it simply resting?

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

New Escapist Column! On The Complicated Legacy of “Shrek”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the twentieth anniversary of Shrek, it seems like a reasonable opportunity to take a look back at the film and its sizable pop culture legacy.

Shrek emerged at the turn of the millennium as a response to the kind of animation that had dominated American cinema during the nineties. In contrast to the calculated earnestness and sincerity of the Disney Renaissance, and its many imitators, Shrek‘s irony and cynicism felt like a breathe of fresh air. It was a film that didn’t take itself too seriously, indulging in knowing jokes and winking references. It was a bold counter-cultural statement that nobody expected to succeed. However, it did succeed, and ironically became one of the defining films of the twenty-first century.

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

225. Jurassic Park (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Jess Dunne and Alex Towers, 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, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

Billionaire Richard Hammond is building a new sort of theme park. However, when an accident on site makes the investors nervous, Hammond is forced to invite a panel of experts to his remote island for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 165th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Video! On “Die Hard” as a Christmas Movie…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

It’s not the 8th of January yet, so it still seems like an appropriate time for Christmas movie discussion. As such, I took a look at one of the great film debates of our time: whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

New Escapist Column! On the “Karate Kid” Franchise as an Exploration of Hollywood’s Complicated History with the Martial Arts…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. The new season of Cobra Kai launched on Netflix today, so it seemed like a good excuse to take a look back at the Karate Kid franchise.

The Karate Kid franchise is often overlooked in discussions of the American action movie, particular the American martial arts movie. However, the films offer a fascinating snapshot of the tension that existed within Hollywood around martial arts during the seventies and into the eighties. The genre was largely imported from East Asia, however it was quickly reworked and reinvented as an American genre. Indeed, one of the recurring tensions within the Karate Kid franchise is the idea of appropriation – of who karate “belongs” to and what happens when others try to take it.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “Avatar’s” Lack of a Cultural Footprint Might Be Its Best Feature…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine earlier this week, given the release of new concept art for the Avatar sequels.

Much as been made of the extent to which Avatar left no tangible pop cultural footprint, despite its massive financial success. It’s a fascinating conundrum, and almost impossible to imagine in this age of fractured fandoms and hot takes. Indeed, that lack of a strong cultural footprint might even be the best thing about it. For better or worse, Avatar was a film that millions and millions of people saw and enjoyed, before getting on with their lives. And in an era where films increasingly feel like religious events, there’s something vaguely comforting in that.

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

“It’s About Family”: Why Are Modern Blockbusters So Preoccupied With the Notion of Family?

“It’s about family” has entered the cultural lexicon, usually delivered with a grim Vin Diesel bass.

It is, of course, a cliché to suggest that the Fast & Furious franchise is “about family.” Of course they are about family. Dominic Toretto never stops talking about how it is “about family.” The entire heart of the film franchise is that it’s “about family.” It arguably has been from the start, with the simmering attraction between undercover cop Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto in The Fast and the Furious. In that first film, Brian doesn’t merely befriend the criminal that he is supposed to catch, he becomes family with him. The two men become (ironically) something close to brothers-in-law as much as brothers-at-arms. Over the course of the series, Dominic offers such pearls of wisdom as “you don’t turn your back on your family” in The Fate of the Furious.

Family runs through the film franchise. Owen Shaw, the villain of Fast and Furious 6, is revealed to be the brother of Deckard Shaw, the villain of Furious Seven. The series hinges on soap opera plot dynamics like amnesia and betrayal, all of which emphasising the importance of these familial ties in mapping out the world that these characters operate. However, “family” is more than just a word that drives the plots of these movies, as much as those plots can be said to exist. It is also an important thematic element. The films frequently feature extended sequences at family gatherings, such as barbecues and parties. (Indeed, the franchise seems to evoke almost a Pavlovian response between the words “family” and “Corona.”)

However, while the Fast and Furious franchise is perhaps the franchise most overtly and obviously committed to the theme of “family”, and certainly the film franchise with the most frequent articulation of the concept, it is far from the only example. Modern cinema, particularly modern popular cinema, seems obsessed with the notion of family. In particular, contemporary big budget films are very much engaged with the idea of “found family” much more than biological family. It is interesting to wonder why modern pop culture seems so fixated on the idea of “found family”, to the point that it dominates so much cinematic real estate.

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The Moffat Moment: The Lasting Legacy of Steven Moffat’s “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”…

Hindsight is a powerful tool.

It’s hard to recognise patterns in the moment, to understand how a larger design is unfolding as it actually unspools. It’s a lot easier to process the larger context once the work is complete. Many important works only reveal themselves in retrospect, once they can be properly contextualised as part of broader cultural movements and placed within the larger popular consciousness. By this measure, Steven Moffat’s run on Doctor Who is a particularly fascinating piece of work.

Moffat’s Doctor Who is an interesting piece of work, in large part due to the sheer volume of venom that it generates online. This is to be expected with any writer working on a major geek-friendly property. Fandoms are inherently protective of what they deem to belong to them, and this can lead to excessive and aggressive campaigns of hatred against those writers and directors they believe to be betraying the object of their affection. This is most obvious in terms of the response to Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, with harassment campaigns against actors and insane petitions and misogynist edits.

Moffat was subject to that sort of online hatred to the point that he was chased off Twitter, but the most interesting thing about the hatred of his tenure was that it seeped into professional journalism. Professional websites like The Daily Dot were so aggressively critical of Steven Moffat that they even made a point to blame him for decisions made by his direct predecessor; even when issuing a correction of that simple fact-checking oversight, they made a point to leave his sarcastic commentary on that narrative choice within the article without any context so that it might look like an endorsement.

There was an interesting dishonesty in the criticism of Moffat’s tenure. The most obvious example might be Rebecca A. Moore’s infamous study that argued that women’s speaking roles actually decreased under Moffat’s tenure, which was circulated in mainstream media and press. While it’s possible to have subjective arguments about the content of such dialogue and characterisation, the study itself was easily demonstrably inaccurate and read very much as an attempt to manipulate the numbers in service of a predetermined editorial perspective.

It is, of course, perfectly reasonable to dislike the work of a particular writer or to dislike the direction of a particular show. Life would be boring if everybody liked the same things. However, a large part of the fan-press coverage of the Moffat era seemed dedicated to arguing that the series was objectively awful with little room for debate. This resulted in a very heightened tone in online discourse around it in which the producer had to give interviews to the mainstream press insisting that he was not a misogynist. This critical environment was less than healthy, and its spread to professional outlets was regrettable.

As with most things, including the tenure of Russell T. Davies and Andrew Cartmel, the reality of the Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner was complicated. It is, for example, true that the overnight ratings did drop during the final years of his tenure. It is also true that the manner in which people were consuming television changed as well, making overnights less important. It is similarly true that Moffat’s tenure saw the series breaking into America; synchronising broadcast on BBC America, record high ratings and shooting episodes like The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon and The Angels Take Manhattan there.

More to the point, it was the Moffat era that saw the series’ impact on American popular culture increase dramatically. To be fair, at least some of this was a delayed reaction to the hard work done by Russell T. Davies who had made smaller-scale efforts at outreach such as second-unit shooting in Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks. Nevertheless, the impact was felt. For example, Christopher Eccleston showed up on The Sarah Silverman Program playing “Doctor Lazer Rage.” Similarly, Community featured “Inspector Spacetime”, with a superfan played by future Moffat-era co-star Matt Lucas.

Whatever the precise cause of this increasingly mainstream interest in the show in American popular culture, and it seems fair to credit at least some of that to the increased access that American audiences had to the show during Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, it gets at one of the larger and stranger overlaps between Moffat’s work on the series and broader cultural trends. Moffat’s Doctor Who often seems like a template for certain strands of contemporary popular culture, whether through coincidence or design.

Rewatching Moffat’s Doctor Who, removed from its original context, it often seems like Moffat had a much stronger understanding of the direction of contemporary culture than many of his critics would allow.

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81. Django Unchained (#61)

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, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

A “Southern” set against the backdrop of the southern states in the lead-up to the Civil War. Freed by the German bounty hunter King Schultz, Django embarks upon a mission to free his wife Broomhilda from the clutches of slave-owner Calvin Candie. Together, Schultz and Django find themselves entering the heart of darkness.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 61st best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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