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“A Goya? In a Harrods Bag?” “TENET” and the Nightmares of Late Capitalism…

This week, the podcast that I co-host, The 250, celebrated its 250th episode with a conversation about Christopher Nolan’s TENET. I had some additional thoughts on the film.

TENET is a film about many things.

It is a movie about the idea that the future will not only judge us, it will condemn us. It is a movie about the importance of faith and mortality in a world that frequently seems to exist beyond basic human comprehension. It is a movie about time, and how there is no escaping or evading it. TENET is one of the most ambitious mainstream American blockbusters of the twenty-first century, with its fractured narrative reflecting the chaos of the time in which it was produced.

However, TENET is also a film about the nightmare of late capitalist excess. It is the story about wealth and power, and how things insulate and isolate those who hold it. It is something of a cliché to suggest that power and privilege protect the wealthy from the laws of men, from the consequences of their action – that civil and criminal laws bend to those with with enough money. TENET follows that idea to its logical conclusion, suggesting a world in which the laws of physics themselves bend to those with enough power.

TENET is a biting piece of social commentary that reflects a profoundly broken world.

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New Escapist Column! On the Redemption of Baron Zemo in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. As The Falcon and the Winter Soldier winds down its season, it seemed like a good opportunity to consider the show’s approach to the character of Baron Helmut Zemo. The villain was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, but the streaming series offered something of a soft reboot of the character.

On paper, Helmut Zemo is the most compelling villain imaginable for a superhero story. He is a man who has suffered at the hands of these super-powered individuals who act without respect or consideration for due process or collateral damage. Zemo is comparable to a character like Billy Butcher from The Boys, a man with a reasonable and grounded critique of a culture built around the unquestioning fetishisation of power.

However, Civil War could never explore Zemo’s perspective, because that would mean asking uncomfortable questions about the power fantasies of superheroism. More to the point, Zemo’s motivations were very much at odds with the purpose of a movie where a large part of the appeal was watching these supermen cause untold property damage. The MCU could not support Zemo as an antagonist, so Civil War marginalises and minimises him. In contrast, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier cannily reinvents the character.

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

200. Goodfellas – Summer of Scorsese (#17)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, with Andy Melhuish, Jack Hodges and others, 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 Goodfellas.

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: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Colour of Money, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

As far back as he could remember, Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. However, the life that Henry leads doesn’t turn out exactly as the young hoodlum might have expected, as he finds himself navigating a web of betrayal and violence involving his closest friends.

At time of recording, it was ranked 17th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Escapist Column! On How “The Dark Knight Rises” Abolished Its Billionaire to Build a Better Batman…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. TENET reviews are dropping in under an hour, and DC Fandome is happening this weekend, so it seemed an appropriate time to take a look back at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises is a particularly interesting project in the current climate. It’s become common to criticise the idea of Batman as a billionaire who spends his fortune to dress up as a bat instead of actually using it to help the poor and impoverished of Gotham. In that context, The Dark Knight Rises is a work ahead of its time. It’s a story about how Bruce fails Gotham in his role as a billionaire, how maybe Batman shouldn’t be “a man from privilege” and a story in which Bruce donates his family home to the city’s “orphaned and at-risk youth.”

The Dark Knight Rises is the rare superhero story to posit an actual and meaningful ending for its protagonist, and The Dark Knight Rises argues that the only possible happy ending for Batman is for Bruce to lose his fortune and be declared dead, understanding that maybe the mantle of Batman should go to another person who is more keenly aware of what it means to live in Gotham. It’s a very clever and very insightful commentary on the Batman mythos, and one that has aged remarkably well.

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

187. Catch Me If You Can (#194)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Luke Dunne and Jess Dunne from The Breakout Role Podcast, 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, Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.

When his parents announce their divorce, high school student Frank Abagnale runs away home. He never stops running. The enterprising young man reinvents himself as a dashing airline pilot, a debonair doctor and a diligent lawyer. However, Frank can only stay ahead of the long arm of the law for so long. As the ground starts shrinking out from him, as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty closes in, Frank wonders if he’ll ever be able to stop running.

At time of recording, it was ranked 194th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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171. Knives Out – This Just In (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Alex Towers and 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.

This time, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

The apparent suicide of noted mystery author Harlan Thrombley attracts the attention of consulting gentleman detective Benoit Blanc. Interviewing the deceased man’s family, Blanc finds a nest of vipers hiding in plain sight and comes to suspect that Harlan has been victim of murder most foul.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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165. Gisaengchung (Parasite) – This Just In (#34)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, 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, Boon Joon Ho’s Gisaengchung.

Drafted in to tutor the daughter of a rich South Korean family, the lower-class Kim Ki-woo enacts a cunning plan that will allow his entire family to infiltrate the lavish Park household. However, things quickly spiral out of control, leading to unpredictable chaos and disaster.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 34th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! “Knives Out” and the Suggestion that the Rich are Not So Sharp…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This one covers something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a little while, which is the interesting aspect of this year’s recurring theme of class warfare that runs through works as diverse as Joker, HustlersReady or Not, Succession, Parasite and Knives Out.

To be fair, it is not unusual to see this sort of tension playing out on the big screen. After all, American cinema has long been fascinated by working class con men and hucksters getting one over on the wealthy establishment. However, what distinguishes the recent crop of media exploring this theme is the recurring suggestion that the wealthy are not especially sharp. Historically, the rich have been portrayed as canny and suave – often dangerous adversaries because of their ruthlessness and relentlessness. What is interesting about the class warfare dimension of this year’s films is the way in which money and success often seem to have coddled the wealthy leaving them surprisingly naive and foolish despite their arrogance and privilege.

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

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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Non-Review Review: The Land of Steady Habits

“You’re mean,” observes a potential romantic partner of Anders Hill, around the halfway point of The Land of Steady Habits.

It would be reductive to suggest that this is the most bracing or cutting piece of character work in The Land of Steady Habits, but it is not entirely unfair. The Land of Steady Habits is very much a story of upper-class social anxiety, of wealthy characters without any real problems in their lives who instead fixate on the kinds of problems that less well-off people probably wish that they had. Anders Hill is a prime example. A solemn and depressive figure who has become alienated from his previously idyllic existence, Anders is a character who is entirely responsible for his current predicament.

Going steady.

In some ways, this is very typical of the work of writer and director Nicole Holofcener, who has adapted The Land of Steady Habits from a novel by Ted Thompson. The film’s status as an adaptation accounts for some of the details that distinguish the film from Holofcener’s other work, most notably the focus on a male (rather than a female) protagonist, but The Land of Steady Habits is very much of a piece with Holofcener’s other work. It is a wry and acerbic study of people who have everything except what they actually need, and who stumble around causing emotional carnage while looking for that something.

With that in mind, Holofcener’s films live and die based on the charm of the leading characters – on how much the audience is drawn into the hollow void at the centre of their existence. By that measure, The Land of Steady Habits is a mixed bag at best. Ben Mendelsohn is great as the pathetic and contemptible Anders Hill, an impotent affluent man-child who seems capable of mustering charm for only a few scarce minutes at a time. However, Anders himself is not anybody that it seems particularly interesting or exciting to spend ninety-eight minutes with.

Sofa, so good.

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