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New Escapist Video! “Jungle Cruise – 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 Jungle Cruise, which is releasing theatrically and on Disney+ Premiere Access this weekend.

Non-Review Review: Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise is a throwback to a throwback to a throwback.

Jungle Cruise is inspired by the eponymous theme park ride, a surprisingly common occurrence in the age of intellectual-property-derived blockbusters, and an approach that has led to films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and The Haunted Mansion. However, because even narrative-driven theme park rides don’t necessarily provide enough story to sustain a feature-length film, Jungle Cruise positions itself as a very deliberate homage to movies like The Mummy, and traces that lineage back to classic eighties adventures like King Solomon’s Mines, Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Cruise Control.

There’s an undeniable charm in this. After all, that adventure movie template can trace its roots back to movies like The African Queen and even into classic screwball comedies. It is a narrative framework that lends itself to charismatic movie star performances, and so it makes sense that Jungle Cruise features two genuinely engaging movie stars at its core: Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Jungle Cruise is at its strongest when it is willing to trust its leads to do what they do best, to be fun and charming while having exotic adventures together.

Unfortunately, Jungle Cruise feels too beholden to the conventions of modern blockbuster storytelling to lean into its stronger elements. Instead, those aspects of the films are constantly at war with the demands and the limitations of a modern spectacle-driven blockbuster. At times, Jungle Cruise feels more like a faded map promising a path to precious treasure. The broad outline is clear, but the richer detail has been lost to time.

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New Escapist Video! On the Theme Park Ride Appeal of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”…

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 every second Monday’s 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 content – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, with Raiders of the Lost Ark celebrating its fortieth anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film. In particular, how Spielberg built Raiders of the Lost Ark as a cinematic spectacle. It is one of the purest blockbusters, but also a triumph of filmmaking.

New Escapist Column! On “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a Theme Park Ride and a Cinematic Marvel…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given that Raiders of the Lost Ark turned forty years old this summer, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at Steven Spielberg’s defining summer blockbuster.

In particular, Raiders of the Lost Ark is proof that it is possible for a “theme park ride” of a summer blockbuster to also function as a distillation of cinema. Everything in Raiders of the Lost Ark moves with singular purpose towards the same goal. It is a visceral and impressive technical accomplishment, but the craft involved in works in service of big ideas about the power of imagery and iconography. Form and function are indistinguishable, what the film is about becoming inseparable from how it is about it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a triumph of filmmaking.

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

Doctor Who: Dragonfire (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Dragonfire originally aired in 1987.

You’re going to go looking for the dragon?

Absolutely.

Oh, cool. Can I come too?

– Ace introduces herself to the Doctor smoothly

Dragonfire is better than Delta and the Bannermen, which is certainly damning with faint praise. Like the rest of Sylvester McCoy’s first season, Dragonfire suffers because of a gap between concept and execution. There is a wealth of good ideas here, but Dragonfire can’t seem to develop any of them to the point where they stand out. Of this troubled first season, it’s perhaps the serial where the conflict between the show’s old-fashioned production and more modern writing are thrown into sharpest contrast. Dragonfire looks like it wants to be a classic Doctor Who episode, even though it’s written like anything but.

"I'm melting!"

“I’m melting!”

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Non-Review Review: Tremors

Man, I love Tremors. I’m a professed B-movie geek who grew up on the particularly cheesy Wes Craven and John Carpenter films of the seventies and eighties, who has always harboured a soft spot for playful monster movies, so I reckon I’m the film’s target audience. Tremors is one of those affectionate throwbacks, those movies that don’t just aim to evoke a particular genre and time period (as The Expendables was a generis eighties action movie produced twenty-five years too later) so much as offer an up-to-date and self-aware reinvention of them (as Spielberg produced a thirties adventure serial with modern sensibilities in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Rodriguez offered a brutally hilarious modern-day Mex-ploitation film in Machete). Tremors is basically a fifties B-movie produced with late eighties A-list talent and self-awareness.

The town's gone to ground...

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Non-Review Review: Anaconda

Anaconda is a B-movie. It’s not a homage to a B-movie, or a love letter to that type of film. It’s not a nostalgic throwback, or an attempt to capture some of the elements of those old cheesy productions. It actually is a B-movie. There’s no real attempt to execute the film in a manner that rises above those, or even captures that type of filmmaking at its best, it’s just a solid example of what a B-movie might look like, were it produced today. It’s hard to argue that Anaconda is a good film – and I’ll readily concede that it’s actively a badone – but there is some charm to be found it, if only from the way that all the hyper-trashy elements seem to come together in what appears to be a perfect storm of creature feature cheese.

I always had a crush on Jennifer Lopez...

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Tintin: The Crab With the Golden Claws (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

The Crab With the Golden Claws is the first of three Tintin stories that were used as the basis of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (the other two being, obviously, The Secret of the Unicorn and its sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure). The Crab With the Golden Claws was originally written during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, when Hergé feared that his then on-going storyline The Land of Black Gold would have proved too politically charged for the country’s new governing force. So the adventure was essentially written as filler, a bit of light entertainment to take the minds of his headers as far away from the political reality as possible. And it certainly succeeds as one of the lighter and brisker adventures in the series, with one major addition to the franchise’s mythos in the form of Captain Archibald Haddock.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship...

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Non-Review Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets works much better as an episodic collection of scenes than a single story. It’s prone to fluctuate between rather brilliant moments and a few misfires here and there. It definitely feels extremely childish, as if the studio was attempting to construct a G-rated Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the John Williams soundtrack adding to the effect, the set design of the eponymous chamber looking like some forgotten archeological tomb, and even Julian Glover being afforded a small cameo (okay, he was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but the point stands). It’s strange to look back at the second instalment, after all that has unfolded since, and look at how much more juvenile and simplistic it all seems in retrospect.

Malfoy drives stick...

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The Sequel Myth and the Death of Originality in Hollywood…

It seems that every other day somebody is taking the opportunity be bemoan Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy. The decision not to press ahead with Del Toro’s version of The Mountains of Madness sparked a similar debate a little while ago, and the success of films like The Fast & The Furious Five seem to be raising the topic once again as we enter summer. It’s become something of a mantra for film fans, quietly chanted and repeated, something that we can use to continually bash the studios over the heads with. And, truth be told, I’m tired of it.

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