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New Escapist Column! On “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Finding Hope Amid the Apocalypse…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about the end of the world lately, understandably, but I thought it was worth unpacking Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fury Road is one of the best blockbusters of the past decade, appearing on countless lists of the best films of the 2010s. However, what distinguishes it from a lot of apocalyptic cinema is that it embraces hope in a very meaningful and practical way. Fury Road is largely about the impulse to retreat from horror and from untenable situations, to abandon a world that appears to be fallen. However, the film argues that such an impulse is ultimately self-destructive, as eventually such a retreat runs out of road. Instead, Fury Road contends that the proper response to a broken world is to turn around and face it head on, to fix it from the inside. It’s a brave and empowering message, and a large part of the film’s appeal.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Understated Power of Pierce Brosan’s Bond…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. With the release of No Time To Die pushed out, and St. Patrick’s Day relatively understated, I thought it was worth taking a look at Pierce Brosnan’s tenure playing James Bond.

Brosnan is often overlooked in assessments of the James Bond franchise, largely overshadowed by the (deserved) reappraisal of Timothy Dalton’s vulnerability in the role and the (deserved) celebration of the emotional complexity that Daniel Craig brought to the icon. This is a shame, because there’s a lot to like about Pierce Brosnan’s interpretation of the superspy. Most obviously, there’s a sense in which Brosnan’s interpretation of the character refused to be tormented and tortured by the work that he did. Brosnan played Bond as a man uniquely attuned to the demands of his job, an unchanging man in a rapidly changing world. The result is a character who seems unflinchingly brutal, but who also collapsed his patriotism into satisfaction of his more personal vices.

Whether intentional or not, Brosnan’s interpretation of the character makes the audience uncomfortable, particularly the joy that he takes in violence and the sense in which little really matters to him beyond satisfying his own urges. It’s a provocative approach to the character, one that stands in marked contrast to the more considered introspection of the the two performers either side of him. Brosnan’s Bond often seems to be challenging the audience, asking whether we enjoy the callous violence and detached brutality as much as the protagonist does, without offering us the “get out of jail free” card that Dalton and Craig’s more solemn portrayals afford viewers.

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.

161. The Irishman – This Just In (#158)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall and Jay Coyle, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Sitting alone in an older retirement home, former gangster Frank Sheeran recounts a life story that spans the second half of the twentieth century, charting a life lived on the margins of greatness but also at the outskirts of decency.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 158th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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150. Joker – This Just In (#9)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, 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 week, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

In eighties Gotham, a failed clown descends into madness as the city breaks down around him. Garbage builds up in the streets as violence lurks in the alleyways. What kind of a man can survive such a world?

At time of recording, it was ranked 9th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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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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Non-Review Review: Ready or Not

“It’s true what they say,” remarks Daniel Le Domas at one point in Ready or Not. “The rich really are different.”

The basic plot of Ready or Not should be familiar. A young woman finds herself welcomed into a wealthy family with an eccentric tradition. After each wedding, the new member of the family is invited to compete against the family in a game. That game can be anything, from tic-tac-toe to checkers. (“I will play the f&!k out of checkers,” Grace playfully boasts when the tradition is revealed.) However, when Grace draws the “hide and seek” card, things quickly take a turn for the macabre. Unlike other games, “hide and seek” is deathly serious. The family plan to hunt Grace down and offer her up as a ritual sacrifice.

What’s on the cards for this evening?

Although Ready or Not brings its own unique perspective to the template, the film is consciously riffing on the classic Most Dangerous Game set-up. Armed with bows-and-arrows, antique firearms and crossbows, the Le Domas family stalk their prey through their decadent mansion as the stakes gradually become clear to Grace. Ready or Not filters this premise through the lens of class and wealth, focusing on economic divide between Grace and her husband’s family. “She’ll never be one of us,” complains Charity Le Domas during the wedding, to her husband Daniel. Daniel responds, “Of course not. She has a soul.”

Ready or Not is pulpy and visceral fun, an engaging and exciting horror-comedy that skillfully blends the two genres in a way that plays to each’s strength. Ready or Not shrewdly positions itself as both a side-splitter and a skull-splitter.

The family that prays together, stays together.

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