Uncategorized

If It Bleeds: Revisiting PREDATOR & embracing PREY

In recent years, the Predator has felt like one of the more forgotten movie ‘monsters’ in modern cinematic history.

Not that we haven’t seen pictures featuring the alien hunter, most recently Shane Black’s interesting but flawed 2018 effort The Predator, but rather this was a creature who simply hasn’t had the recurrent traction of other science-fiction creations on screen. Think of how many Alien films now exist. Consider the monsters of horror, be it Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, who continue to find an afterlife again and again and again. The Predator’s appearances have been much fewer and further between, despite him being one of the more enigmatic and intriguing ‘monsters’ of the last thirty plus years.

The use of ‘monster’ is qualified by air quotes because the Predator doesn’t equate to me in the same vein as many of the aforementioned devils of cinema. The Predator, or the Predators as is probably the better moniker given no film yet has featured the same creature twice, is not by nature an evil creation. The Predator—or in deeper comic book lore a Yautija—is as the name defines him, a hunter of prey. He is a warrior who lives by a code. He seeks out the strongest and while his intent is to kill, he lives by a sense of honour. He is more Viking than demon. He is more Klingon than xenomorph.

This has perhaps never been better understood than in Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey, the latest movie in the franchise, which if we’re lucky will begin a whole new lease of life for Jim & John Thomas’ creature. It deserves to, because the Predator has a hell of a lot more to give.

Continue reading “If It Bleeds: Revisiting PREDATOR & embracing PREY”
Film, Horror, Reviews

DASHCAM is the gonzo found footage horror satire to end them all (Film Review)

Anyone who saw Host during lockdown will have been damn excited to see DASHCAM.

Rob Savage exploded onto the horror movie scene with his hour long, super low budget but highly effective slice of Zoom-based terror which dropped right at the apex of Covid-19 paranoia and fear, mid-2020, as the world watched, waited and worried. Host was ragged around the edges but enormously creepy and played a set of new beats on the now well played tune that is found footage horror. It brought that fear into not just the computer screen but the home in an even more acute way than Unfriended or Friend Request etc… films with a bigger budget playing with that intersection between the online and the unfathomable.

DASHCAM is an altogether different beast. Though deliberately still lo-fi, Savage is graced with a bolstered budget thanks to a three picture deal with modern horror maestro production house Blumhouse and a transatlantic approach and appeal, not to mention a fusion of fiction and hyper-reality. Fronted by Annie Hardy, playing a firebrand version of herself—albeit not too dissimilar by all accounts to her actual persona—DASHCAM feels less about trying to scare and designed more to throw audiences into a frenzied world of relentless chaos, in which technology allows voyeuristic patrons the chance to watch true carnage unfold in real time.

To his credit, Savage doesn’t try and repeat the trick of Host with DASHCAM. He just decides to go completely off the leash.

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Film, Jurassic Park, Reviews

JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION should never, unlike life, have found a way (Film Review)

It feels a genuine missed opportunity not to delay Jurassic World: Dominion a year in order to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s seminal introductory film to this box office chomping franchise.

Granted, thanks to Covid-19, it had been shunted back a year once already much like most pictures made in the pandemic period, however Dominion so desperately works to pay homage to Spielberg’s film it would have, to fans, been worth the direct birthday tie in. For anyone who doesn’t love the original Jurassic Park, well, a) I don’t believe you exist and b) if you do, Dominion is not about to convince you to jump into this franchise 65 million years in the making.

The clear eyed truth of the matter is that Dominion wants to be Jurassic Park so damn much, it entirely forgets to do anything else across the weighty two hour plus running time. Colin Trevorrow’s fan credentials of Amblin, Spielberg and this era of the movie making have always been in evidence and he—the man who, lest we forget, for a long time was directing what became Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker—wears that adoration on his sleeve in everything he does.

The problem here is the same problem you find whenever someone produces a weaker cover song years after the fact: it just makes you wish for the original.

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Books

SCREEN CAPTURES: FILM IN THE AGE OF EMERGENCY by Stephen Lee Naish (Author Interview)

Earlier this year, writer Stephen Naish reached out to me with his book Screen Captures: Film in the Age of Emergency, which I can report was a fascinating read covering a wide range of pop culture and modern political subjects, some very personal.

Here’s the blurb:

A spirited, far-sighted guide to politics, Star Wars, the Avengers, David Lynch, and the lost highways between them, for today’s capitalist-realist age.

We’ve met before, haven’t we? The grand illusion of our era is that we’re at the end of history and cinema is now no more than tranquilizing entertainment. What we’ve lost sight of is the political undercurrent running through movies and their potentially redemptive power, whether they’re Hollywood mega blockbusters like Star Wars or off-kilter indies and art films like Blue Velvet. This is the premise and the challenge of the wide-ranging essays that make up Screen Captures, in which Dennis Hopper, Nicholas Cage, Valerie Solanas, and even Donald Trump all have a starring role. The book tells, as much as it shows, what lies just out of frame: the impacts of COVID on theatres, the class war of the 1% upon the rest, the climate crisis, the ongoing Disney-fication of franchises, and the audience’s active participation in the rewriting and reproduction of their capture by screens. Throughout, subliminally, Stephen Lee Naish rings his urgent call: occupy the screen!

It was a genuinely interesting piece of work to digest and Stephen was kind enough to talk to me, subsequently, about his creative process and how the book came to be.

Continue reading “SCREEN CAPTURES: FILM IN THE AGE OF EMERGENCY by Stephen Lee Naish (Author Interview)”
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars, Uncategorized

Your Powers Are Weak: OBI-WAN KENOBI and Tiring Intellectual Property

A curious thing happened to me while watching Obi-Wan Kenobi, the latest piece of event television to emerge from Disney’s wider Star Wars universe.

Part III contained what is arguably the singular momentous storytelling beat for Star Wars since Rey found an old Luke Skywalker at the end of The Force Awakens. Ewan McGregor’s middle-aged, beaten down ‘Ben’ Kenobi faces down his former protege Anakin Skywalker at the peak of his Darth Vader transformation, long before any kind of redemptive beat we will eventually see in Return of the Jedi. They draw lightsabers. They fight. Vader, in his immortal James Earl Jones-style drawl, tells Obi-Wan he is weak. It is pure Star Wars catnip.

Yet I felt nothing. Granted, Star Wars isn’t exactly ‘my’ franchise. I’ve always enjoyed it but the passion for it doesn’t exist as it does for Star Trek or The X-Files or James Bond etc… That being said, I am as readers of this blog will know, someone who laps up popular culture in many forms and frequently the return of characters, or existing franchises, does excite me. Vader’s reappearance properly for the first time since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, to fight Obi-Wan Kenobi no less, should have thrilled me. Except it just left me numb.

It felt like an example of just where mainstream IP has taken us, and is continuing to take us, in the age of the streaming service. Back to a lesser re-tread of a classic, beloved moment in cultural history.

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Film, Reviews, Top Gun

TOP GUN: MAVERICK is heartfelt, old-fashioned, joyous blockbuster filmmaking (Film Review)

Though one of the staple examples of 1980s blockbuster filmmaking, nobody truly expected Top Gun to either have or need a sequel, especially not approaching forty years on.

The so-called ‘legacyquel’, coined to describe sequels to existing properties that arrive long after the original picture or films, has been in vogue over the last 5-10 years in everything from Terminator: Dark Fate to Bill and Ted Face the Music. The results have been frequently a mixed bag with some franchises unable to recapture the magic or flair of the original movies. One of the reasons Top Gun: Maverick—which at 36 years after its predecessor stands as one of the more distant examples of the form—works so well is that it doesn’t have a masterpiece to try and emulate.

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who watched Top Gun and actively hated it or at least believed it was poor filmmaking. Aside from permeating popular culture to a degree only 80s pictures such as Back to the Future or Indiana Jones managed, Tony Scott’s original movie balanced kitsch 80s action, plenty of testosterone-fuelled coded homoeroticism, sun-kissed American landscapes and a brace of exuberant rock to deliver a picture built largely on Tom Cruise’s nascent charisma and a gung-ho celebration of American exceptionalism. While a staple of its era, Top Gun is not a great piece of cinema.

This leaves Top Gun: Maverick plenty of leg room to both evoke the beloved film before it and craft something contemporary. The fact it does this, and does it so well, is a testament to everyone involved. It is, easily, the finest ‘legacyquel’ to date ever made.

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Film, James Bond, Partisan Cinema

Partisan Cinema: OCTOPUSSY (1983) – From Orlov to Putin

In a recurring feature called Partisan Cinema, I look at movies from a political slant, gleaning insight from them about how they relate to society then, and indeed now…

Just this last weekend, as of writing, I ticked another milestone off my cinematic bucket list. In this case, it was watching Octopussy on the big screen.

Much like catching Pokemon, my intent is to try and see every James Bond film on a cinema screen across my lifetime, especially those which were released before my birth. Octopussy was the first Bond movie filmed after I was born, shot during the same summer I came into the world: 1982. The 13th Bond film, and Roger Moore’s penultimate outing, Octopussy is considered outside of 007 die hards such as myself a cinematic relic. It would never make any film critics list of the greatest Bond pictures. For many, it is a creaking, close to pastiche example of Bond lethargy as Moore’s ageing lothario limped toward old age.

While especially catching it on a broader canvas made apparent that John Glen’s picture is rather critically underrated, and deserved of some level of reappreciation, Octopussy also stands out on a political level. Though 007 producer supremo Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli might have long protested that the Bond pictures were apolitical, he was lying to himself first and foremost. Every single one of them made before 1995 reflected the Cold War, with Octopussy no exception. Yet in this film, the political scheming by forces within the Soviet Union, Britain and Bond’s seemingly eternal geopolitical nemesis, is far more overt thanks to the inclusion of one character: General Orlov.

Looking back now, long after the end of the Cold War, with almost 40 years distance, what fascinates is not just how much Orlov stands as an artefact of a lost era, but rather how his Russian zealotry makes Octopussy far more relevant in 2022 than anyone might have expected.

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Causality Loop, Star Trek: Picard

Causality Loop: Schrödinger’s Guinan in STAR TREK: PICARD

In this semi-regular column looking at time travel in fiction, Causality Loop explores the interesting paradox of the Guinan character in the recent second season of Star Trek: Picard

BEWARE SPOILERS for Picard Season 2.

A tried and tested Star Trek trope, time travel is the principal gambit behind the second season of sequel series Picard.

The mechanics of how it works are largely a magical combination of Star Trek mechanisms, from the slingshot effect around the Sun first seen in 1986’s fourth movie with The Original Series crew, The Voyage Home, with a liberal dose at the same time of the Borg Queen’s temporal vortex abilities we saw in the Next Generation’s second film First Contact. It’s all designed deliberately to evoke the nostalgia of those earlier means of time travel without needing to delve into any kind of logical temporal theory.

Where things get complicated is over the question of Guinan. One of TNG’s most beloved supporting characters, played with enduring mystery by Whoopi Goldberg since the late 1980s, we see her return in season premiere The Star Gazer in the early 25th century before, once the La Sirena crew go back to the year 2024, she gets a new bit of youthful casting in Ito Aghayere, portraying a Guinan who hasn’t yet met Jean-Luc Picard in the early 21st century.

Does this contradict Star Trek canon and the established timeline? Possibly. Possibly not. Let’s just call her, for now, Schrödinger’s Guinan.

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Season Reviews, The Pentaverate, TV

THE PENTAVERATE is a kind but comically calamitous relic of a bygone age (TV Review)

The funniest thing about The Pentaverate is the timing of its arrival for Netflix, given how under the kosh they currently are in terms of value for money.

Recent reports have seen Netflix’s stock value plummet following news that they have lost a considerable subscriber base as the ‘streaming wars’ heat up with a consolidated Disney and Amazon, a critically rising Apple, and a looming WarnerMedia on the horizon. All media analysis points to one conclusion – Netflix might still be top dog but they can no longer rest on their laurels. Content is not simply enough any longer. Their strategy of throwing as much as they can at the streaming wall and seeing what sticks is not generating them dozens of Stranger Things’ or Bridgerton’s. What they’re ending with up too often is projects like The Pentaverate.

No one is likely to dispute that Mike Myers is funny or certainly has been funny. Wayne’s World has aged well and is now considered by many as a cult comedy classic of the early 90s. Austin Powers, while broader, albeit just as hit and miss, landed squarely inside the ‘Cool Britannia’ fondness for the 1960s that came to bear in the late 1990s, fondly lampooning the James Bond series and 60s cultural norms with great success. Myers is a one-trick pony in many ways but you know what you’ll get – cheeky charm, irreverent asides, teenage boy scatological set pieces and gurning, cod-Spitting Image caricature. You’ll either go in for that or you won’t and The Pentaverate is entirely more of the same.

The difference is that in the age of Netflix, of streaming, Myers’ repertoire of jokes is rapidly wearing thin.

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Season Reviews, Star Trek: Picard, TV

STAR TREK: PICARD (Season 2) is a frustrating, contrived wallow in nostalgia

If ever proof were needed that the writers and producers of modern Star Trek study what audiences think and feel about their shows, then Star Trek: Picard’s second season is most assuredly it.

The first season was a defiant aberration even in the context of Star Trek’s modernisation. Ostensibly a character study, the first Star Trek series directly focused on a popular icon from the broader franchise, Picard was deliberate in just how determinedly it refused to play to the gallery of Star Trek expectations. We only saw Starfleet and the Federation in passing and they were reconceptualised, in the wake of the Trump Administration, as at best an insular, ignorant organisation driven by paranoia, at worst an openly corrupt government. There was no glistening starship our characters travelled on. No exploring new worlds.

This made sense, in broad strokes, given what Picard was designed to explore. Sir Patrick Stewart agreed only to return for a deconstruction of his legendary Enterprise Captain; aged, lost at the end of a century he no longer recognises, haunted by his inability to save a population formerly made up of ideological enemies from a natural catastrophe. Surrounding him with newly invented characters, placing him far from the world of Starfleet he was so closely associated with, the first season of Picard worked to take Jean-Luc on a journey to rediscover the spirit he had lost. A dark series, it dared to suggest the 24th century future fans had imagined after Star Trek: Nemesis was quite different from what would have been expected.

Which, in part, is why Season 2 immediately reverses track. Star Trek: Picard gives in to audience expectation, maybe even pressure, to try and tap not just a 1990s but also 1980s nostalgia for the franchise. It largely fails at both.

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