Essays, Film, Game of Thrones, Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Sopranos

Death Wish: When did death become the journey?

The end of April saw two of the biggest pop-culture entertainment events of the decade in one weekend, and something strange has become apparent through the other side of them: we have become obsessed with death.

In the wake of arguably the biggest episode in Game of Thrones’ history, The Long Night, which saw the long-awaited, titanic battle between the living and the dead, a great deal of complaints flew around in the ether that we hadn’t seen enough major character meet the Lord of Light (or insert substitute maker). Why didn’t Jaime Lannister go down fighting? How come Sansa Stark wasn’t mauled alive in the crypts? Surely Sam Tarly would never have survived in the savage, undead melee? Fans and commentators seemed fixated on the outcome of the battle for Winterfell being significant loss, as opposed to victory or defeat for the collected good guys.

Equally, in the run up to Avengers: Endgame, Marvel’s culmination to the first decade of their cinematic universe, all bets were on one of two deaths: Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark or Steve ‘Captain America’ Rogers. Both played by actors who publically stated they were done, both playing characters who have reached the logical end of their ten-year story arcs. In a narrative choice earned and logical, it’s Tony who takes the bullet (alright, gauntlet) and shuffles off to superhero immortality, but what was the state of conversation in the wake of this? That everyone saw this coming. Tony’s death was too predictable. For some, it even clouded the entire film. Endgame, to certain audience members, was about who died, who wouldn’t make it out into the next phase.

When did this become what long-form storytelling was about? Why is the death of characters we are so attached to the destination, the only destination, that matters?

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Essays, Essays, Film, Game of Thrones, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Trek: Discovery, TV

End Game of Treks: Is Time-Travel Becoming a Storytelling Crutch?

In one of the busiest few months in science-fiction and fantasy popular-culture, the beginning of 2019 has seen three major franchises in cinema and on television become embroiled in what could be rapidly becoming a narrative crutch.

Time-travel.

The lacklustre Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery (I really promise to stop talking about this soon) saw the crew of the Starfleet ship launch themselves almost 1000 into the distant Federation future to prevent a universe-destroying, rampant AI from wiping out all life. The gigantic conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first era, Avengers: Endgame, saw our superheroes enter the Quantum Realm and zip backwards across time to recover the universe-shattering Infinity Stones before the Mad Titan, Thanos, can snap his fingers again and wipe out half of all sentient life. And just this week, Game of Thrones saw the ultimate battle with the Night King and his army of the dead, coming to wipe out the living, which all hung on the fate of Bran Stark, a time-travelling tree-wizard.

Anyone noticing a pattern here? Three legendary franchises. Three titanic threats to the fabric of the entire universe. And in each case, the resolution of the paradox has the potential to lie in the bending of time.

We’re in danger of death by temporal mechanics if we’re not careful.

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Essays, Film, Star Wars

Skywalker Rising: STAR WARS, Abrams and familiar territory

Until this weekend, Star Wars: Episode IX was in serious danger of having its thunder well and truly stolen by the twin pop-culture giants on the immediate horizon – Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones’ final season.

As if sensing a disturbance in the Force, Disney—who bear in mind own Marvel so control two of the biggest cultural entertainment events of 2019—released to much fanfare, including an entire live-streamed celebration event, the long-awaited trailer to a film we now know will be subtitled The Rise of Skywalker. The trailer naturally didn’t give all that much away – Rey doing a neat Jedi flip over a tie fighter, a desert barge fight channeling major Return of the Jedi vibes, what looks like a crashed Death Star on a watery world, and a very gleeful old Lando Calrissian back behind the wheel of the Millennium Falcon. Enough to stoke some fan theories for the next few months and keep the wheels of speculation moving.

There was, however, one final part of the trailer which seems to have confirmed a suspicion on many fans minds. Namely that returning director J.J. Abrams is steering the Skywalker saga back into safe, familiar territory for the climactic beat.

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Essays, Film, Star Trek

STAR TREK is Boldly Going… but to where?

What many Star Trek fans considered an unlikely impossibility has finally, it seems, happened: the franchise is well and truly back on TV, and here to stay.

When Star Trek: Discovery launched at the tail end of 2017, after several delays, it ended the franchise’s 12 year exile from television screens following the slow demise of Star Trek: Enterprise, and the Rick Berman\Paramount TV dominance of the late 80’s and 1990’s – if not the most iconic in terms of popular culture, then without question the most successful era of Star Trek in its half a century of history. Discovery was a symbolic return for one of television’s most legendary series and, as every Star Trek sequel series has done over the decades, it divided opinion.

If you put aside Discovery’s quality, and the difficulties behind the scenes in bringing it to bear, one fact is indisputable: it has triggered a revival of Trek which is now heading in some very unexpected directions.

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Essays, Film, The Greatest Showman

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN: Barnum’s biggest con job is on us

There are winds in the east, a storm coming in apparently for the newly released Mary Poppins Returns, if some of the box office reports are accurate.

Forbes are saying that Rob Marshall’s sequel is being seen off quite resoundingly by the surprisingly critically acclaimed Bumblebee, and the fairly divisive Aquaman. The absence of a Star Wars this Christmas for the first time in three years has meant studios have thrown a few major blockbuster candidates into the pot, but it would have been a sure fire bet that family friendly musical Mary Poppins Returns—featuring the half-century long return of one of Disney’s most iconic characters—would rule the roost. This does not seem to be the case so far.

Yet a year ago, another musical, trailing in the wake of The Last Jedi, took audiences increasingly by storm as 2018 kicked off: The Greatest Showman.

To date, Michael Gracey’s film has made $434 million dollars at the global box office, making it the fifth most commercially successful musical of all time. All. Time. In one year. It climbed considerably at the box office on the back of word of mouth, fighting off not just The Last Jedi but other competitors with franchises behind their backs – Pitch Perfect 3 (one of my worst films of 2017) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. There was over a 70% jump weekend on weekend as the film closed out 2017, which for an original musical, and a 19th century biopic no less, is quite remarkable.

The film collected accolades and nominations for its music, particular the song ‘This Is Me’. In the UK it became only the second album in 30 years to achieve 11 consecutive weeks at number 1. Fans over just the space of a year have started attending ‘sing along showings’ of the film. A sing along version can be watched now on streaming services alongside the traditional way to view it.

This has all been in the space of just 12 months. Can you think of any other film of this genre which has captured the public consciousness in quite the same way in recent years? Only Frozen eclipses it for reach and cultural crossover between children and adults, and that has the advantage of being Disney animation. The Greatest Showman is a live action biopic. How did this happen? And my biggest question, the one that has been rolling around in my head since I watched it a year on from when it was released… how have so many people been conned by it?

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Essays, Film

The Curious Case of Jennifer Garner

You may ask yourself, as action revenge thriller Peppermint is released in the UK with a limited release, why Jennifer Garner never became the Next Big Thing.

Pierre Morel’s thriller—from a director who has, as of yet, failed to capture the same iconic formula he developed with Liam Neeson in Taken—sees Garner play Riley North, a mother on a quest for revenge against the cartel who murdered her family. This certainly is not Alias: The Movie (we already got that after all with Mission Impossible III ) but it does see a return for Garner to the kind of picture she assidiously seemed to avoid since her breakout role in JJ Abrams’ underrated ‘spy-fi’ series Alias at the turn of the Noughties.

With the odd exception, Garner has never capitalised on the renown of her role as super spy Sydney Bristow.

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Essays, Film

LAST ACTION HERO: A film ahead of and perfectly of its time

Last Action Hero is both ahead of its time and perfectly positioned within the era it was made, such is the paradox of a forgotten curiosity of 1990’s action cinema and the stratospheric career of Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Here’s my story and why I’m writing about Last Action Hero some twenty five years on from its release. I was 11 years old when Last Action Hero was released in cinemas, in the US one week after Steven Spielberg’s decade-defining Jurassic Park. In theory, I was the perfect age to consume a film which is entirely about the youthful obsession of a similarly-aged child, Austin O’Brien’s Danny Madigan, with action adventure cinema. Jurassic Park I badgered my parents to take me to see three times yet I didn’t go anywhere near Last Action Hero. It didn’t even register with me.

It has taken me until age 36 to actually sit down and watch it, and this is after spending at least the last twenty years being an enormous fan of Schwarzenegger’s movies and career. Last Action Hero was always the Arnie film I missed.

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Essays, Film

What if killing off Daniel Craig’s JAMES BOND makes sense?

Another day, another James Bond rumour. Of all the great franchises out there, 007’s—perhaps appropriately—seems to play its cards the closest to its chest.

Eon Productions always rations information about where their legendary character is going right up to the point they are ready to announce his destination, and for what looks to be Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing in the role, this time is no different. Yet this time the rumour mill, courtesy of a story in The Express, has thrown up an unusual possibility.

The as-yet-untitled Bond 25 will end, apparently, with the death of James Bond.
This got me thinking, because the typical reaction to this would be a shocked gasp, a firm shake of the head, and a stiff dry Martini. “James Bond can’t die!” You can almost hear the clamour of middle-aged men who have been following this franchise since Roger Moore bedded women half his age in a safari suit angrily huffing those words, shaking off another nonsense newspaper report with various rebukes. “Bond is the main character!” “Bond is the hero!” “Bond, in the end, wins the day, kills the bad guy, saves the world and shags the girl over a load of diamonds which were being used to power a gigantic laser in space!” (or something).

Here’s where I’m wondering… maybe Daniel Craig’s 007 should bite the bullet.

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Essays, Film

ANON: The Quandary of the Joint Home/Cinema Release

Just to clarify, starting a title with Anon is not me trying to go all highbrow and Shakespearian on all of you.

It does of course refer to a new picture being released next Friday, starring Clive Owen & Amanda Seyfried, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, which is being promoted with a curious affectation: it is both being released in UK cinemas and on the Sky Cinema service as a premiere simultaneously on the same day. In a world where people worry about how Netflix Original movies are threatening to make cinema obsolete, this only adds fuel to the fire.

Now I haven’t seen Anon. My website Set The Tape was at the press screening and our guy there gave it a decent review, but the film didn’t set his world alight. I will refrain from judging Anon until I’ve seen it, and I will see it, but will I see it at my local cinema? Probably not, in all honesty. Why would I? I’m fortunate enough to have the means to have Now TV, and by extension Sky Cinema, so I can get home from work on Friday, grab a snack from the cupboard, put my feet up on my sofa, and watch Anon on my 45’ plasma. Alternatively I could travel five miles, pay for snacks, sit next to a stranger, and not even be able to stop the film for a cuppa. Again, why would I?

This sounds like I’m down on the cinema as an entity. I’m really not. There remains nothing like the experience of watching a movie on a big screen with an audience. Last year, I experienced the beauty of hundreds of people in hushed, hold your breath silence at the end of La La Land, or this year dozens of people crying out when that character suffers a potentially fatal blow in Avengers: Infinity War. You can’t replicate that at home on your couch. The honest truth, however, is that unless you’re an absolute fanatic with time to spare, a Cineworld Unlimited card (or variant), or it’s your job, you won’t watch everything at the movies. In this world, we have to pick and choose what we go and see.

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Essays, Film

Marvel, Gatekeeping and the ‘Problem’ with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

There has been an interesting response to the dominant Avengers: Infinity War this weekend as it romped home to a record-beating opening weekend in the States, and a remarkable $600 million plus global take home.

Aside from the legion of critics, professional and amateur, who have all lined up on either side of whether the film is good or bad (and most reactions seem positive), the issue again seems to concern fandom. In this instance, whether Infinity War is for anyone who isn’t already a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A piece in The New Yorker has been widely circulated, with people criticising and defending an article which suggests Infinity War suffers for the fact it does nothing to ‘introduce’ the myriad amount of Marvel players to new audiences. Some are suggesting that it doesn’t have to, given its place as the first part of a finale to an ongoing saga—which I discuss more in my review—but some have on the other side of the fence suggested this kind of storytelling by Marvel Studios, and how the fandom have responded to it, is yet another form of ‘gatekeeping’.

That fandom are, once again, erecting a big ‘KEEP OUT’ sign and planting it firmly in the entrance of every cinema from Middlesbrough to Manhattan.

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