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.

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James Bond, Writing

Book Review: THE LOST ADVENTURES OF JAMES BOND (Mark Edlitz)

Every franchise has their lexicon of tantalising lost projects, stories which failed to see the light of day, and James Bond is no exception.

Many of these tales are public knowledge and have been documented over the decades since 007 came to the big (and small) screen in various incarnations and guises, but Mark Edlitz is one of the few scribes to comprehensively piece together the fabric of James Bond narratives lost to the ages and weave them into a document which, rather forensically, presents many of these fascinating fragments into a coherent meta-narrative of his own.

The Lost Adventures of James Bond is the story of Bond that never was.
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Podcasts

New Podcast: MAKE IT SO – ‘The Dark Veil’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Make It So: A Star Trek Picard podcast, I joined host Luke Winch to discuss the most recent Picard tie-in book, The Dark Veil, from James Swallow, which I recently reviewed.

This was a really enjoyable chat about a damn good read, and one which allowed me to get on my soapbox about tie-in fiction and how one day I hope to see it folded into on screen canon. Stranger things have happened!
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Star Trek: Picard, Writing

Book Review: STAR TREK: PICARD – ‘The Dark Veil’ (James Swallow)

All things being equal, the second season of Star Trek: Picard would likely have been airing at the start of 2021, allowing the second tie-in novel The Dark Veil to align with its parent show.

Luckily, James Swallow’s tale does not rely too heavily on the established canon and continuity of Picard’s current events and has the providence to prop itself up as what is fast becoming a ‘classic’ Star Trek story. Classic, in terms of this franchise, used to refer to the colourful kitsch of the 1960s Original Series but it now encompasses an era Swallow has straddled, both as a tie-in novelist and story contributor to Star Trek: Voyager – the 1990s. Perhaps the ‘Golden Age’ of Star Trek, this era did not just birth Picard’s originator, The Next Generation, but a style of storytelling the modern age of Star Trek has increasingly moved away from. 

The Dark Veil, in that context, is comforting and reassuring. It feels a reminder of what Star Trek is capable of and, honestly, what the modern example of it on television is steering away from.
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Writing

Book Review: MAKE SPIELBERG GREAT AGAIN (Armond White) + Author Interview

You know what you are likely to get from Make Spielberg Great Again given the title: sheer, fearless provocation.

Armond White doesn’t care. He knows full well your mind will immediately venture to the outgoing President of the United States, as an appropriation of the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan the Republican Party have adopted over the last four years, and much further beyond that if you know your political history. Not that MGSA is a book driven by Trumpism, or about Trump’s America, but the title very clearly wants you to understand that White’s social and cultural politics might not align with your own, even if you will take from this book a shared passion: the work of Steven Spielberg.

One aspect of White’s reviews from The Press Gang, which I reviewed last year and compiled a number of White’s pieces on film for the New York Press across many years which stood out, beyond his refusal to be pigeonholed into any kind of traditional cinematic lens, was his frankly unexpected adoration of Hollywood’s premier directorial titan. Most people think Spielberg is a great director, even if not all of his varied array of pictures are success stories, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect White to line up alongside Spielberg adherents, given how frequently he will discard aspects of cinematic culture others hold in high regard.

White’s rationale for making Spielberg ‘great again’ is one of the most interesting aspects of a typically divisive, fascinating collection of essays chronicling the director’s entire career to date.
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The X-Files, Writing

Book Review: THE X-FILES: The Official Archives – Cryptids, Biological Anomalies, and Parapsychic Phenomena (Paul Terry)

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Over the years, we have enjoyed a litany of tie-in material for The X-Files, principally across the 1990s but again recently thanks to the return of Chris Carter’s iconic series.
Fans will remember Brian Lowry’s essential episode guide books back when the show aired – basic by today’s standard but a touchstone in the pre-online era of limited investigative or behind the scenes information. Ditto Jane Goldman’s two-volume Book of the Unexplained, much more of an expansive ‘coffee table tome’. Aside from the novelisation tie-ins from writers such as Charles Grant & Kevin J. Anderson, these materials expanded our knowledge and enjoyment of the television series, paving the way for the multimedia onslaught of additional material that would appear around shows and movies to come, and following in the footsteps of mega franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, who had already been doing it for years.
In the modern 2020s, what can resources such as this offer us? Back in the ‘90s, without access to information or images or contextualisation, such books would inform and enrich our knowledge of the movies and shows we loved. Now, everything in those books is available thanks to a cursory Google search. This forces books such as The Official Archives to be a touch more inventive in how they engage with the property they’re playing with.
Paul Terry is clearly someone who adores The X-Files and knows it well, and such enthusiasm emerges in a book that is part coffee-table resource filled with arcanum and part investigative journal, playfully adding new details and lore to The X-Files mythos.
Continue reading “Book Review: THE X-FILES: The Official Archives – Cryptids, Biological Anomalies, and Parapsychic Phenomena (Paul Terry)”

Writing

Book Review: THE PRESS GANG – Writings on Cinema from New York Press, 1991-2011 (edited by Jim Colvill) + author interview

★ ★ ★ ★

Film criticism is a thrilling, if mercurial, business, and one which can either chew a writer up and spit them out on the other side of corporate vacuity, or lead them to stand firm against the cultural tide.
In many ways, The Press Gang exemplifies that ongoing struggle. Subtitled ‘Writings on Cinema from New York Press, 1991-2011’, the book strings together two decades worth of criticism spanning an era of cinema undergoing a long-standing, pervasive metamorphosis into a corporate mono-culture. Edited by Jim Colvill, who undertook a mission to seek out the writing of three critics who penned a brace of work for the now long defunct New York Press, the book is a snapshot of criticism during a key time, filled to the brim with detailed, often fascinating analysis on pictures as diverse as Michael Bay’s The Island through to Mohsen Makmalbaf’s A Moment of Innocence (nope, I’d never heard of it either).
This is uncompromising, often searing film writing which is not designed to simply encourage you to indulge the filmmaker or studio producing said films, but rather question their cultural, aesthetic and personal value in the world, as part of a broader societal whole.
Continue reading “Book Review: THE PRESS GANG – Writings on Cinema from New York Press, 1991-2011 (edited by Jim Colvill) + author interview”

Essays, TV

Plugging Gaps: How backstory is becoming story

Remember the time that backstory was just that? Backstory.

Many of the most successful TV shows and movies are specifically built on a sense of their own mythology and world building. Game of Thrones has a series of vast novels to draw on which detail an incredibly complicated social and political eco-system, for example. Backstory, the details of the universes of these tales and the histories of many characters within the stories, provide the unseen depth and ballast to the tale we are being told, the tale we are invested in.

In recent years, however, the trend of this has begun to shift. Our biggest stories within popular culture are now becoming obsessed with backstory not just being developed to enable the narrative, they are instead becoming the narrative. Storytellers are actively attempting to try and ‘plug gaps’, for want of a better term, in continuity and canon, believing it seems that audiences are as obsessed with these minor details as the writers of these properties appear to be. We are losing the element of ambiguity, surprise and mystery.

We are losing backstory by exploring too much of it.

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Film, Writing

Some NERVE: Social Media and Modern Cinematic Voyeurism

Social media has taken control of the world. Almost all of us have a smartphone and we’re wired into either Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc… or all of them. The open communication of the internet has made us desperate for ultimate, constant connectivity. It’s an idea that across this decade, as social media has fully taken hold over Western society, the movies have begun exploring.

Inevitably, and perhaps appropriately, cinema has largely taken social media to be a new and dangerous playground. Much as the technology is used by people of all ages (yes, even some of the elderly), apps, games and innovations remain primarily the province of the young and impressionable. Social media is attractive, not just for the fact you can build a virtual profile that presents a picture of who you would like the world to *believe* you are, but it provides a gateway to thrills and social taboos. Hence why adults are consistently reminded, and parents are scaremongered, into believing social media is a corrupting evil that will warp and destroy the minds of our children.

Filmmakers on the whole don’t quite see it that way. Many seem to consider social media to be one enormous, conceptual cautionary tale, sometimes fused a with futuristic morality play. An entire sub-genre now exists of pictures often starring, and certainly aimed at, the young, but to classify them specifically as horror films—as some have—does them a slight disservice. Those directors and writers who are interested in the pervasive effect social media has on our lives seem more keen to portray the internet, and all its myriad labryinthian contexts, as something that will only destroy us if we misuse it or refuse to pay it enough respect.
Continue reading “Some NERVE: Social Media and Modern Cinematic Voyeurism”