A J. Black

Author: Myth-Building in Modern Media | Twitter: @ajblackwriter | Podcaster: @motionpicspod @wemadethispod | Occasionally go outside.

Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver is the kind of movie that could only be made by a gigantic fan of movies, and specifically the kind of stylish action pictures that characterised a film education born of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. That man is, and always has been, Edgar Wright.

Wright has taken the traditional path to making a film like Baby Driver, which feels like the pinnacle of everything he’s learned and developed cinematically since he made his first major picture, Shaun of the Dead. That wasn’t his first feature technically (that honour goes to 1995’s little known A Fistful of Fingers) and after several TV directing gigs, largely of comedy, Wright came to prominence with cult TV series Spaced in the late 1990’s, which began his signature partnership with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Spaced has endured in the public consciousness because it was ahead of its time; a post-modern encapsulation of self-referential ‘meta’ on TV, crammed with cinematic allusions and references (heavily on Star Wars). It was a TV show made by a group of creatives who understood cinema, the touchstones, winks, nods and history. Pegg and Frost took that into their acting careers but Wright retained it for his directorial one. Shaun of the Dead was a comic roast of the George Romero zombie movie, Hot Fuzz did the same for the buddy action flick and The World’s End gamely tried, and failed, to do so for the alien invasion movie.

The so-called ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ with his old mates were safe bets for Wright. It was British comedy territory he knew and, to an extent, helped create. 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World was his first taste of bigger Hollywood, American filmmaking, and quite how his kinetic, punchy, self-effacing style would connect with that level of filmmaking. Boasting a major cast, a beloved comic-book source material and a ton of retro video game in-jokes, Scott Pilgrim has remained divisive; loved by some as a cult curio, hated by others, and many still probably never got around to seeing it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is probably the cheekiest title Marvel have ever given one of their films, simply for the fact the subtitle is both literal and figurative. Spider-Man, probably Marvel’s most famous superhero alongside the Hulk, finally comes home with Jon Watts’ entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sony Pictures have owned the rights to the character for many years and have made repeated attempts over the last fifteen to launch a franchise with our friendly neighbourhood web-slinger. The first time, under Sam Raimi’s direction, we had the original Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. There he fell in love with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane Watson and battled the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus and Venom (plus half a dozen more in the third film it seemed). Poor critical buzz partly put paid to a planned fourth Raimi Spider-Man film after 2008.

Then came the reboot. Out went Raimi, out went Maguire. In came upcoming star Andrew Garfield as Peter and Marc Webb, best known for the divisive (500) Days of Summer, behind the lens. Emma Stone joined as Gwen Stacy, the other well-known Peter Parker love interest, and this time he battled a new Green Goblin and, again, thanks to the power of sequelitis, half a dozen bad guys including Electro in the second film, which also Sony planned to use as a backdoor way of teeing-up a Sinister Six spin-off movie. Despite how the two leads impressed, the knives were again out critically and any chance of a trilogy died a swift death.

The famed Sony hack was the first indication they were hatching plans with Marvel to bring Peter Parker into the MCU. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out in 2014 and just two short years later, at the start of 2016, another rising star in Tom Holland popped up to portray the character in Captain America: Civil War. In a film rammed with established superheroes, within a story very much in the middle of an ongoing story arc eight years to that point in the making, Holland shone brightly immediately in his extended cameo. He *was* Spider-Man, and he was back where he always should have been.

It Comes at Night (2017)

Touted as potentially the best horror movie of the year, It Comes at Night is selling itself short to be branded in such basic terms. Horrific it can be in places, but complexity is the deeper truth Trey Edward Shults’ second picture holds at its core.

On the week of the film’s release in the UK, there has been a controversial article in The Guardian discussing the supposed nature of a new sub-genre It Comes at Night falls into: post-horror. Simply defined, these are horror movies which move past the need to scare in the conventional sense, rather soaked in existential dread and drawing you into a themed, tense, slow-build narrative. Get Out, this year, is cited as the clearest example of ‘post-horror’, as is David Lowery’s upcoming A Ghost Story. The term, however, is a poor misnomer; as a good friend of mine aptly put it to me today, “horror is horror. End of”.

It Comes at Night is not a horror film, and to declare as much is by no means suggesting it shouldn’t be. Horror is one of the defining genres of cinema, indeed it has been ever since people first married sound to image and realised the capacity to scare, such as FW Murnau in the original Nosferatu in 1922. Ninety plus years on, horror is one of the most varied and lucrative genres of film in existence, a genre ripe for fascinating experimentation and thematic depth. You can do almost anything in horror, as the most skilled filmmakers often prove. Much like Jordan Peele’s aforementioned Get Out however, Shults gives us a varied fusion of several different genres.

Preaching to the Perverted (1997)

Like many films made during the 1990’s with the benefit of retro hindsight, there is something enormously of its time about Preaching to the Perverted, while at the same time managing to still strike a naughty chord twenty years on.

The 90’s were an unusual decade. It had freed itself of the capitalist Republicanism of the Reagan era in the US and the culturally divisive powerhouse of Thatcherism in the UK which dominated a 1980’s filled on the one hand with bright Coca Cola ads, synthetic pop music and post-modern hairstyles, and on the other the depressing reality of stark union action in workplaces, crippling unemployment and a social mobility gap ever widening. The 1990’s saw a triumphant return, at least politically, for a spell of liberal democracy; New Labour came to power under the Tony Blair cult of personality the same year Preaching to the Perverted arrived, while the biggest challenge to trouble Bill Clinton’s presidency came, literally, under his Oval Office desk.

A decade recovering from austerity yet retaining the capitalist homogeny of American pop culture, wedged between a decade to come of post-9/11 political terror and a gradual return to the right-wing technocracy of the 2010’s. In other words, in the 1990’s, we never knew we had it so good. The same could be applied sexually too. Consider the amount of erotic thrillers that troubled Hollywood that decade – from Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, Madonna and all the candle wax in Body of Evidence, and that frankly weird one, Color of Night, most memorable for an aquatic glimpse of Bruce Willis’ junk. Sex was all over American cinema that decade in perhaps more direct, skin-baring ways than we’d ever seen before.

Preaching to the Perverted is not an erotic thriller but it is one concerned with that mix of liberal democracy and where politics sits in the landscape of kink. Stuart Urban’s film is almost punk in a post-punk landscape, primarily through its central character Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner) putting two fingers directly in the direction of the BBFC and an Establishment it seeks, through its story, to reject and rebel against at every turn. There is something of a knowing, satirical wink throughout, admittedly; it’s not as angry as it could have been, nor is it absurd. It’s probably as close as you could get to a John Waters movie in the UK, though, and by its very nature that makes it wilfully anti-establishmentarian.