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New Escapist Column! On Uncanny Valley of “The Witcher” Between Prestige and Tradition…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine the week before last, looking at the Netflix streaming show The Witcher.

There are a lot of interesting things about the eight episode introductory season of The Witcher, which is adapted from two books of short stories and which seems to exist largely to set the table for more impressive seasons to follow. However, what is most immediately striking about The Witcher is the way in which it exists in the uncanny valley between modern prestige television and a more traditional model of episodic storytelling, looking like a hybrid of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Game of Thrones. To be clear, this is not a bad thing.

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

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 5, Episode 8 (“Kitsunegari”)

Last year, I was extremely privileged to get to discuss the wonderful Pusher with the sensational Tony Black on The X-Cast. For those who don’t know, Pusher is Tony’s favourite episode ever – and comfortably sits around the edge of my top ten. So no pressure.

As such, it was a delight to get to join Tony for Kitsunegari, the fifth season sequel to Pusher. Outside of the mythology, it was relatively rare for The X-Files to do direct sequels to earlier episodes – even popular ones. Kitsunegari is an entry in a very select club that includes Tooms and Orison. However, it is also an episode with which I’ve had a very complicated relationship. It often feels like a parody of a sequel to Pusher rather than an entirely earnest follow-up, and as such as always felt like it belongs to the fifth season’s broader preoccupations with monstrous progeny as a metaphor for the show’s unexpected evolution and direction. Of course, I’ve always worried that I read too much into it.

As ever, you can make up your own mind. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Column! “Deadwood: The Movie”, “El Camino” and Closure In The New Age of Television…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. This one looks at the recent releases of Deadwood: The Movie and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie as an illustration of how much the television landscape has changed in recent years.

These belated capstones to beloved series – Deadwood and Breaking Bad – are interesting because they afford the creative talent the opportunity to wrap up their story free from the production constraints of television, the urgent desperate churn of the conveyor belt that demands workable solutions in insanely short periods of time. These epilogues arrive years after the fact, and are the product of careful consideration and reflection. They allow their creators to tie a little bow around their work. After all, sometimes it is nice to have distance.

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

Escapist Column! “Titans” as a Meditation on Found Family…

It’s another In the Frame column at Escapist Magazine.

This time taking a look at Titans, the new live action adaptation of Teen Titans that formed one of the cornerstones of Warner Brothers’ DC streaming service. The series focuses on a bunch of teenage sidekicks who find themselves forced to work together for the greater good, particularly focused on Dick Grayson who was the former Robin. The series explores themes of trauma and found family, but is particularly interesting for its rejection of conventional (or even conventionally coded) family units.

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

Non-Review Review: Rambo – Last Blood

There’s something almost disappointingly pedestrian about Rambo: Last Blood.

The sequels to Rambo: First Blood have often struggled to live up to the original film, to capture the aspects of that early eighties action drama that elevated above so many of its contemporaries. Watched today, First Blood is a surprisingly sensitive piece that exists worlds apart from the gleeful revenge fantasies of Rambo: First Blood, Part II or Rambo III. It exists a world apart from superficially similar action movies like Missing in Action or P.O.W.: The Escape, a surprisingly meditative and reflective piece of work.

Parting shots.

It isn’t really a surprise that Last Blood strips out a lot of that meditation and reflection. Even the best of the sequels – the no-nonsense Rambo, from 2008 – was relatively straightforward in its ambitions and its methods. What is disappointing about Last Blood is how mundane its own ambitions and methods really are. The bulk of Last Blood is given over to a story that feels lifted from the most crass of the spiritual descendants of the original Rambo, with the eponymous Vietnam veteran embarking on a mission into the Mexico underworld to recover his surrogate daughter.

That said, Last Blood roars to life in its final act, recapturing some of the thrills that distinguish the series from so many of its imitators and successors. There’s a pulpy absurdist thrill to the film’s final act, which tries awkwardly to combine the wry commentary of the original film with the hyper-violence of the sequels. The result is a film that averages out to somewhere around “just about fine.”

Take a bow.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 1, Episode 14 (“The Thin White Line”)

As ever, a delight to stop by The Time is Now to talk about Millennium, this week with the estimable Christopher Knowles.

This week, I got to show how deep my love was for The Thin White Line, the last episode of the first season to be penned by James Wong and Glen Morgan. As with Force Majeure, this is one of my favourite episodes of the first season. It is interesting, because it’s also one of the last “serial killer of the week” stories in the season. It is also among the very best of that subgenre, and deals thematically with ideas that the show will explore in the season ahead.

This was a fun, broad discussion. As ever, you can listen to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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“One Priceless Moment”: “Apollo 11”, and the Search for a Singular Defining Narrative…

This July marked the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landings.

It was an occasion marked with much discussion and celebration. The nostalgia had arguably kicked into high gear the previous winter with Damien Chazelle’s First Man, an awards-season biopic looking at the life of Neil Armstrong. Mired in an absurd controversy, First Man failed to make as much of an impact as it might. It under-performed at the box office and ended up shut out of the big awards races. However, there were other celebrations of the landmark date. Donald Trump met with the surviving astronauts. Mike Pence used the occasion to push for a manned mission to Mars.

There was also Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary Apollo 11. This documentary is interesting, in large part because it eschews a lot of the conventions of these sorts of retrospective celebrations. There are no talking heads; what little exposition exists in the film is drawn from a combination of archive recordings and public materials, without any sequences of participants or experts trying to explain the footage that the audience is seeing. Indeed, a lot of Apollo 11 flows without dialogue, a sequential retelling of the moon landing stitched together from newly-discovered 70mm footage.

What is most striking, and most successful, about Apollo 11 is the fact that it captures the essence of the moon landing as much as the finer details. The intimate footage – cobbled together from dozens of sources  – offers a rare and intimate insight into the mission, but that is not the source of the documentary’s power. Apollo 11 fundamentally understands the appeal of the idea of the moon landing, particularly at this moment in time. Stitching together countless different perspectives of the same event into a singular cohesive narrative, it offers a glimpse of a rare moment where mankind was “truly one.”

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