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New Escapist Column! On the “Jungle Cruise” and the Journey Into the Uncanny Valley…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Jungle Cruise this week, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt vehicle.

It isn’t particularly surprising that Jungle Cruise takes place in an unreal environment. After all, this is a feature film based on a theme park ride. However, it is striking how completely and how eagerly it rejects anything resembling reality. Jungle Cruise draws openly from films like The Mummy, The African Queen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, globe-trotting adventures that blend special effects with beautiful location work. In contrast, Jungle Cruise unfolds entirely within the hard drive of a computer.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Tenets of TENET…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With TENET now on streaming, it seemed like a good time to dive into the film’s position within Christopher Nolan’s filmography.

Most discussions of Nolan’s filmography focus on the director’s obsession with time, and TENET makes sense in that context. However, the film also ties into more existential anxieties that simmer through Nolan’s body of work, in particular the question of reality actually is and how best to respond to a world that can fundamentally chaotic, hostile and unknowable. TENET deals this this theme, confronting its audience and its characters with a reality that appears to be unraveling.

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

 

New Escapist Column! On How “WandaVision” Plays Sitcom as Horror and Nostalgia as Nightmare…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With WandaVision currently streaming on Disney+, it seemed like an interesting opportunity to look at the show’s use of the language of sitcoms.

In particular, sitcoms have long been a staple genre of American television. However, they don’t just reflect cultural norms, they also project an aspirational ideal. For generations of Americans, the domestic sitcom presented a vision of domestic life that shaped and informed popular consciousness. In WandaVision, those nostalgic fantasies become a trap and a waking nightmare, as characters build themselves a life of seeming domestic bliss dictated by decades of television. Wanda has built herself a cage, treating television as a mirror.

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

209. Shutter Island – Summer of Scorsese (#156)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Kurt North, 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, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, Boxcar Bertha, Cape Fear, CasinoThe Aviator, The Departed, Silence. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels makes a trip across Boston Harbour to visit the psychiatric institution on Shutter Island, investigating the mysterious disappearance of one of the patients. However, as Teddy probes deeper and deeper into the workings of the facility, it becomes very clear that things are not as they appear.

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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188. The Truman Show (#177)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Kurt North, 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.

This time, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.

Truman Burbank has the perfect life. He has a good job, a loving wife, a charming best friend. He lives an idylised existence, one where he wants for nothing. However, a series of freak occurences jolt Truman out of his blissful world and force him to confront a potentially horrifying reality: what if everything that he knows is just an elaborate lie?

At time of recording, it was ranked 177th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“The Truman Show” Didn’t Just Predict Our Future, But Also the Future of How Movies Would Be Sold…

More than twenty years after its release, it feels like everything that might be said about The Truman Show has already been said.

The Truman Show is that rare Hollywood blockbuster that feels somehow simultaneously timeless, timely and prescient. It speaks to anxieties that resonate throughout history, fears that were very particular to the cusp of the millennium, and to nightmares that were yet to come. It belongs at once to that age-old anxiety that the world is an illusion and human comprehension is insufficient, to the difficult-to-articulate existential uncertainty of the so-called “end of history”, to a future in which everybody would willingly become the star of their own Truman Show.

Indeed, The Truman Show seems to say so much about the world outside itself and the human condition that it’s possible to miss the film itself. Peter Weir’s late nineties blockbuster is a surreal slice of history itself, a relatively big budget mainstream release starring one of the most famous people on the planet, built around a rather abstract high concept. Not only was the film a massive critical success, it also managed to survive and prosper against a heated summer season.

While its actual themes and contents might be dystopian, The Truman Show itself offers an optimistic glimpse of a kind of blockbuster that seems increasingly unlikely.

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“I’m Ready to Communicate With You Now”: The Millennial Anxieties of “The Sixth Sense”, and Feeling Alone in the City of Brotherly Love…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing The Sixth Sense on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

What do you think these ghosts want when they talk to you? I want you to think about it, Cole. I want you to think about it really carefully. What do you think they want?

Just help.

That’s right. That’s what I think too. They just want help, even the scary ones. I think I might know a way to make them go away.

How?

Listen to them.

The Sixth Sense is a remarkable film, for many reasons.

These days, The Sixth Sense is perhaps best known for its central twist. The film’s powerhouse emotional ending has become a pop cultural touchstone, anchoring jokes in everything from Fifty First Dates to the viral video sensation Jizz in my Pants. Of course, this also complicates the legacy of The Sixth Sense by serving as ground zero for director M. Night Shyamalan’s subsequent dependence upon these sorts of twists in movies like The Village or The Happening. Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has endured in the popular memory as one of the rare twist-driven films that stands up to repeat viewings.

A Cole’d open.

However, it is much more than that. Even beyond that, The Sixth Sense is a lavish production that looks beautiful. Of course, Shyamalan’s ego has done his reputations few favours, from his own cameo as a writer-messiah in The Lady in the Water to his role in a Sci-Fi Channel documentary The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan to the famous Newsweek cover crowning him “the next Spielberg.” Still, The Sixth Sense is visually stunning. Although it is tempting to think of The Sixth Sense as a “small” movie by modern standards, it was actually produced on a budget of $40m.

Rewatching The Sixth Sense twenty years later, it is amazing how much of the film’s visual storytelling lingers. Shyamalan might not have been the next Spielberg, but he had a wonderful eye for composition; that shot of a red balloon drifting up the inside of a spiral staircase, those eerie sequences of Malcolm and Cole wandering through a surprisingly quiet Philadelphia, even the conversations at that church with Cole towering over Malcolm from the balcony as he plays with his toy soldiers.

Pew pew!

However, even more than all of that, The Sixth Sense remains the rare film that is both specifically rooted in its cultural moment and profoundly universal. The story that drives The Sixth Sense is surprisingly straightforward – helpfully encapsulated in Cole’s trailer-friendly assertion that he sees “dead people.” However, Shyamalan understands that ghost stories are about more than just the recently deceased. Ghost stories translate a sense of longing and regret, of disconnect and isolation. The Sixth Sense is fundamentally a story about how difficult it is to meaningfully communicate in the modern world, with or without a pulse.

The Sixth Sense is a story of existential ennui, wrapped up in a set of late nineties anxieties.

M. Night Shyamalan had to eat Crowe on his next few films.

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147. The Matrix – Summer of ’99 (#18)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and Alex Towers, 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, continuing our Summer of ’99 season, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: 10 Things I Hate About You, The Virgin Suicides, Run Lola RunElection, Cruel Intentions, Fight Club. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

Thomas Anderson lives a fairly ordinary life; an office drone by day, a computer hacker by night. However, Anderson’s life quickly begins to fall apart when he finds himself drawn to a mysterious hacker named Trinity. It soon becomes clear that Anderson’s life (and his very reality) is not at all what it appears to be.

At time of recording, it was ranked 18th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Author, Author (Review)

Author, Author is a deeply cynical piece of Star Trek.

Author, Author is arguably as bleak as anything that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever produced. It is a story about how shallow and how self-centred the primary cast of Star Trek: Voyager can be, but also a showcase of how little the Federation has actually evolved in the twelve years since Star Trek: The Next Generation tackled the same themes in The Measure of a Man. Indeed, with production wrapping up and the series winding down, Author, Author seems to acknowledge the flip side of the “end of history.” There is no sense of material progress. Things have not improved. Things have not changed.

Doctor Demented.

Author, Author literalises this within its own narrative. Author, Author suggests that little has changed in the Federation’s worldview since The Measure of a Man, while also insisting that nothing will change in the immediate future. Author, Author acknowledges that The Measure of a Man was a desperate punt of a thorny issue, but also frames its own narrative as exactly the same kind of punt. The closing scene of the episode places any long-term consequences of the story four months in the future. In doing so, it places them squarely outside the purview of Voyager in particular and Berman era Star Trek in general.

The only problem with all of this is that Author, Author often seems entirely unaware of how unrelentingly cynical and bleak it is.

Write on!

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Non-Review Review: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an amazing Spider-man movie.

There is no other way to describe it. Into the Spider-Verse is a clean lock for the best superhero film of the year, neatly leapfrogging the superlative Black Panther. Into the Spider-Verse is also the best animated film of the year, placing comfortably ahead of The Breadwinner or Incredibles 2. In fact, it seems fairly safe to describe Into the Spider-Verse as the best feature film starring Spider-Man since Spider-Man II. Even that feels like hedging, and would be a very closely run race.

Just dive on in.

Into the Spider-Verse is a creative triumph. It is a fantastically constructed movie, in virtually every way. The film’s unique approach to animation will inevitably dominate discussions, and understandably so. Into the Spider-Verse is a visually sumptuous piece of cinema that looks unlike anything ever committed to film. However, the film’s storytelling is just as impressive if decidedly (and consciously) less showy in its construction. Adding a phenomenal cast, Into the Spider-Verse is just a film that works in an incredibly infectious and engaging way.

Into the Spider-Verse does whatever a Spider-Man movie can. And then some.

Suits him.

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