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New Escapist Column! On the Franchise Revanchism in “Star Wars”, “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday, looking at one of the more interesting (and frustrating) trends in modern franchise storytelling.

New ideas in existing franchises have always been controversial. After all, fans were taken aback by the changes made to existing properties in films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. So the controversy around things like the first season of Star Trek: Discovery or Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi are nothing new. What is new, however, is the way in which these properties now seem to be swayed by fan anxieties, retreating from bold ideas into the safety of familiarity. This leads an emptiness, and runs the risk of letting these properties stagnate.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Rogue One” as “Star Wars” for the Twenty-First Century…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine a little while ago, looking at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Like most films, the original Star Wars was a product of its time. It spoke to simmering tensions and traumas related to the late seventies, from lingering atomic anxieties to the horrors of the Vietnam War. However, a lot of time has passed since the original trilogy, and our cultural anxieties have changed over the intervening years. Since the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney, the Star Wars franchise has been fixated and focused on the original trilogy. However, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the only film to make an effort to ask what those tropes and conventions mean moved to the present day.

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

New Escapist Column! On Servicing the Wrong Fans in “The Rise of Skywalker”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine a few weeks back, looking at the ways in which Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker worked so hard to erase Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, and in doing so played to the worst aspects of fandom. It proved controversial.

It is hard to determine exactly what The Rise of Skywalker is about, beyond the vague hope of parents that their radicalised children might be redeemed. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker is largely defined by reaction. It exists primarily as a rejection of The Last Jedi, often feeling as though it was written from a beat sheet punctuated by angry replies to Rian Johnson over the past two years. The result is a movie that knows what it isn’t, but desperately unsure of what it actually is.

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

 

New Escapist Column! On the Need of “Star Wars” to “Grow Beyond” the Skywalkers…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last night, looking at the future of the Star Wars brand.

While there is still some ambiguity about where Disney will take the cinematic franchise following the release of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, a clean break might be the best course of action. Modern franchises are too beholden to fan service and familiarity, to retreading old ground in order to avoid offending or challenging existing fans. This prevents franchises from growing and embracing new ideas and new possibilities. It leaves them stagnant, and ultimately does little to appease fandoms with very strong ideas of how characters or ideas should be portrayed.

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

“So, Your Son is a Nazi”: Modern Hollywood’s Weird Fixation on Feel-Good Stories About Fascists…

JoJo Rabbit is supposed to be an “anti-hate satire”, but what exactly is it satirising?

To be fair to director Taika Waititi, JoJo Rabbit is a well-made and charming crowd-pleaser. It manages something genuinely impressive, offering a feel-good coming of age comedy set against the backdrop of Germany in the dying days of the Second World War. It belongs the awkward, saccharine genre that produced films like Jakob the Liar or Life is Beautiful or The Day the Clown Cried. It is impossible to overstate how thin a razor blade Waititi is dancing, and how remarkable it is that he maintains his balance. The film never feels too sombre or too dark, but never as tasteless as something like The Book Thief.

Of course, Waititi largely manages this through cinematic sleight of hand. He avoids dwelling too heavily or for too long on the victims of fascist oppression in Nazi Germany. JoJo Beltzer finds a young Jewish girl hiding in his attic, but the film never details the horrors of the Final Solution. The characters are repeatedly confronted with the sight of bodies hanging in the public square, but the camera never really lingers on them. Instead, it focuses on JoJo’s reaction to them. The audience’s gaze is fixated on his gaze. The question isn’t how the audience feels about the horror, but how they feel about how JoJo feels.

This raises an interesting and slightly unsettling question about the recent wave of Hollywood films exploring the emergence of the modern extreme right and the resurgence of fascist ideology. Who exactly are these films for? What is the intended audience of JoJo Rabbit, and what exactly is it saying to them?

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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest live action theatrical Star Wars film, which is quite something in a world where Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones exist.

To be fair, some of the problems with The Rise of Skywalker are forced by external events. Carrie Fisher passed away early during production, and there was always a sense that the third film in the trilogy would focus on Leia in the same way that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens had focused on Han and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi focused on Luke. As a result, the film’s consciously flailing around how best to fill that void is understandable.

Similarly, director JJ Abrams arrived on the project at the last minute, after Colin Trevorrow was removed from the project. The new Star Wars trilogy has an abridged production cycle to begin with, but The Rise of Skywalker had to switch hands midstream. As a result, it makes sense that there is a certain rough quality to the storytelling, with Abrams inheriting a film that was not designed for him and trying to impose himself upon it.

These are serious and credible challenges facing The Rise of Skywalker, and it would take an impressive film to overcome these logistical hurdles. As much as Han Solo might not like to hear the odds, those odds have been stacked against The Rise of Skywalker from very early in the production process. The film seems keenly aware of this. At one point, Poe crash lands the Millennium Falcon on the forest moon of Endor. When Jannah comments on the rough landing, Poe replies, “I’ve seen worse.” Jannah replies, “I’ve seen better.”

However, while that failure to stick the landing might be forgivable – if disappointing in its own terms – The Rise of Skywalker is most severely undermined by unforced errors. The film makes any number of catastrophic storytelling choices, both in the story that it decides to tell and the way that it ultimately opts to tell it. Whenever The Rise of Skywalker reaches a narrative crossroads, it never fails to pick the weakest of the options in front of it. This is bad of itself, even without the sense that these choices are being driven by the most craven of motivations.

As with films like Justice League, it often feels like The Rise of Skywalker has been shaped and informed by listening to the loudest voices raging on the internet and tailoring a film to appease their aesthetic sensibilities. The grand tragedy of The Rise of Skywalker is that the kind of fans that it is intended to appease are well past being appeased. More than that, these cynical efforts to appease those fans serve to alienate the actual audience. The Rise of Skywalker is everything certain fans wanted from The Last Jedi. Not uncoincidentally, it is nigh unwatchable.

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160. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (#15)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Luke Dunne, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back.

It is a time of galactic strife. Following the Empire’s defeat at the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance finds itself on the run. A surprise attack on the ice planet of Hoth scatters the rebel fighters to the wind, with Luke embarking on training with a mysterious figure named Yoda while Han Solo attempts to ferry Princess Leia to safety. However, things are not as they appear.

At time of recording, it was ranked 15th on the list of the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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