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“It’s not over, it’s just not yours any more”: Thoughts on Fandom and Growing Old Gracefully…

It is not a new observation to suggest that modern audiences live in a world dominated by existing intellectual property.

It has been argued frequently and convincingly that the era of the movie star has surrendered itself to the era of the brand, where the biggest draw for audiences it not which actor is on screen but which universe is being developed. Cinemas are flooded with long-delayed sequels and spin-offs to beloved favourites, films often separated from their predecessors by decades; consider the gap between The Incredibles and Incredibles II or between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, even between xXx 2 and xXx 3 or between Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2.

It is easy to exaggerate the scope of these issues. After all, there have always been films based around established intellectual property, whether early films or television series or even novels. Gone with the Wind was a book before it was a film. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of The Seven Samurai. Philip Marlowe was continuously reimagined on film from Time to Kill in 1942 to The Big Sleep in 1978. Star Trek: The Motion Picture transitioned a failed television series into a big budget science-fiction film franchise. This is to say nothing of perennial favourites like the story of Robin Hood or Jesus Christ.

At the same time, the indie market is thriving. Although making any movie is a tremendous accomplishment, there has arguably never been a better time for people making movies. Companies like Netflix and Amazon are buying up as much “content” from film festivals as they can, and in doing so are making filmmakers and production companies whole. Companies like Annapurna are adopting a model that consciously puts creativity ahead of commercial concerns. Even technology has advanced to the point where it is possible to make films on a phone. Cinema is not endangered or under threat. It is vibrant.

Still, it feels like things are different in the modern era of blockbuster entertainment. For one thing, there are fewer big budget blockbusters based around wholly original ideas. In the past decade, only the work of Christopher Nolan stands out; Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk. There have obviously been other success stories, like J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield and Super 8 or like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but these are notable for being the exception rather than the rule. There is a sense that the mainstream is dominated by revivals of beloved properties, and not just in film. Hannibal, Star Trek: Discovery, Fargo, Watchmen.

One of the interesting tensions of this era has been in watching the way that fandoms react to these revivals, the manner in which they approach these new takes on established mythologies. By and large, it has not been especially flattering or engaging. There have been death threats, misogyny, cultural wars, heated arguments, simmering disagreements. Recent years have seen the growth of a strange cult of fannish entitlement within the cultural mainstream, perhaps reflecting the manner in which the mainstream has embraced fannish desire. There is something deeply frustrating and disheartening about this.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #24!

We should be back to something resembling a weekly release schedule with the Scannain podcast.

This week, it’s a rather intimate affair with myself, Grace Duffy, and Donnacha Coffey from Filmgrabber. However, the conversation is suitably wide-ranging, discussing everything from the audience-versus-critics conflicts over Hereditary and Gotti to the politics of David Lynch to the sad story of Johnny Depp to the latest surreal controversy involving Star Wars fandom. Along the way, we discuss the usual array of subjects, from the week in film news to the top ten to new releases including Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Dublin OldschoolTag, Escape Plan 2: Hades and Adrift.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #23!

We’re now completely caught up on the Scannain podcast. And with new and improved sound design, thanks to the wonderful Donnacha Coffey.

This week, I join a fantastic panel including Grace Duffy, Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle, and Donnacha Coffey from Filmgrabber. As ever a wide-ranging discussion took place, including talk about Set It Up and Netflix’s niche, the incredibly vibrant world of Streets of Fire, the continuing disaster that is Star Wars fandom after the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story and whether Lady Bird is the best film of the year so far. New releases include The Happy Prince, Kissing Candice and Ocean’s 8.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Sound Off: Settling the Score on “Last Jedi’s” Soundtrack-Only Version

The score-only version of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is marvelous for a number of reasons.

Announced by director Rian Johnson as a special feature available on certain digital releases of the feature film, the premise is remarkably simple. The score-only version of The Last Jedi presents the feature film complete and uneditted, but without any dialogue or sound effects. The sound mix is completely dominated by John Williams’ score for the film, from the opening Star Wars fanfare to the music playing over the closing credits. Over the course of the movie’s two-and-a-half hour runtime, not a single word is spoken and not a single laser blast is heard.

As such, the score-only version of The Last Jedi is the closest thing imaginable to a blockbuster silent movie in the current market. After all, silent films are at best a curiousity in the modern market place, often relegated to retrospectives and festival screenings, with the occasional nostalgic release like The Artist. In fact, black and white films are noticeably more common than silent films in the current market. As such, the score-only version is an intriguing piece of work. It obviously showcases John Williams’ score, and the way in which that score shaped and informs the images on the screen.

But it also demonstrates that Rian Johnson is the best director to have worked on the Star Wars franchise, from a purely technical standpoint.

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57. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (#244)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guest Grace Duffy, 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 second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, J.J. Abram’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the First Order and the Rebellion struggle for control of the cosmos. Against this backdrop, three unlikely heroes ascend, embarking upon a mythic journey that will reveal dark secrets and promise new hope.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 244th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is visually sumptuous, thematically rich, but narratively clumsy.

There is a lot to love in The Last Jedi. Most notably, the gamble that Disney took on director Rian Johnson has paid off. The Last Jedi looks and feels like no other Star Wars movie. It is not simply the intimacy with which Johnson stages conversations separated by half a galaxy, nor the high quality visual effects. There is an endearing and appearing sense of wonder to The Last Jedi, as if watching a small child playing with action figures and humming the lightsabre noise to himself. The Last Jedi feels like the work of somebody continuing and expanding a story, more than just recreating it.

Rey of Hope.

Indeed, the best moments in The Last Jedi struggle to reach beyond what audiences have come to expect from the franchise. Some of this is inherited from the ambition of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, particularly in early scenes that emphasise the human cost of this galactic struggle. However, there are other more ponderous moments in The Last Jedi when it seems like Johnson and his characters are asking profound questions of the franchise itself, poking at the underlying assumptions that power this box office behemoth.

This was essential for the success of The Last Jedi. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was an exercise in nostalgia that worked so well because of three factors; it was a palette cleanser after the prequels, it innovated by pushing background characters to the narrative foreground, and it was released more than a decade after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Nostalgia is not enough to sustain a franchise that will be releasing one major motion picture a year for the foreseeable future. The Last Jedi needs to find something interesting to say about a forty-year-old franchise.

Seeing red.

In its best moments, it seems like The Last Jedi is lining up its arguments. It looks at the Star Wars universe through new sets of eyes, often in a literal sense. Johnson is not a director in the vein of Lucas or Abrams. Johnson is not a director who feels entirely comfortable with spectacle and scale. Instead, Johnson offers a tighter and closer glimpse at the universe and the people who inhabit it. There is a lot of focus on faces in The Last Jedi, shadows moving across them, eyes either focused or trying desperately to look away.

However, The Last Jedi ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions. The bolder and more provocative suggestions at the heart of the narrative remain just that, nothing more than implications or subtext. The Last Jedi has intriguing and bold ideas, but lacks the resolve to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Although undoubtedly less nostalgic than The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi remains too trapped by its own past to fully chart its own course and map its own destiny.

Shore thing.

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11. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – This Just In (#152)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

podcast-rogueone1

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