Friday, 19 February 2021

Cult Cinema, now available

So I wrote another book. That's CULT CINEMA: A Personal Exploration of Sects, Brainwashing and Bad Religion in Film and TV. It's notionally supposed to be available on 26th but Amazon pulled the trigger a little early. You can find it on Amazon on most marketplaces, including: 

I'm going to be doing two launch events. On 26th February, I'll be launching the event with a watch party for The Invitation (2015) followed by talk and a live QnA on Zoom, because that's how we do events like this now. And on 25th of March, I'll be promoting it with the Cultural Institute at Swansea University, of which more details to come.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Your Move, Darwin #11: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

(Spoilers. Always, spoilers.)

Cultural historians of the future will probably have no hesitation in recognising that cinema in the second decade of the 21st century was the high point of the Franchise Genre Blockbuster. A flood of Marvel and DC superhero movies; five new Star Wars movies; four Hunger Games movies; five Fast and Furious movies; a couple more Terminator movies; four more Transformers movies. And of course, there were more Bond movies (there have always been more Bond movies). Failed, super-expensive attempts to kick off franchises abounded, with Luc Besson’s good-hearted but chemistry-free attempt to bring French comicbook legends Valerian and Laureline to the screen flopping catastrophically, and ready-planned sure-thing multimillion-dollar franchises based around King Arthur and the Universal Monsters getting themselves cancelled on the spot thanks to movies that were frankly crappy enough that audiences noticed. Every studio was looking for a property to resurrect: indeed, the Rocky, Rambo, Alien(s), Mad Max, Predator and Jurassic Park series all came back, and the long-running Toho Kaiju series – home to Godzilla, Rodan and Kong – got a monster American relaunch. Why wouldn’t they have another pop at rebooting one of the most successful sci-fi movie franchises of the past? They did it with pretty much all the others.

I’m not the first to observe that the titles of the Planet of the Apes reboots are a bit wonky. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a film about the dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a war for the Planet of the Apes in it, explicitly flagged in dialogue. And it’s fair to say that War for the Planet of the Apes is really about the ultimate rise of the Planet of the Apes. Even the final film itself seems implicitly to admit this, explaining how each of the films supplies a Rise, a Dawn and a War in an opening crawl. I do not know if this is true, but I have this guess that they came up with the titles, pitched the movies and announced the return of the franchise before having a script. In the same way that Paul Dehn was long ago sent off to write another one with the terse words “apes exist” (and by the way knocked it out of the proverbial park), I would guess that the writers of these new movies got sent off to produce a bible and create scripts after the titles were settled. The initial thought behind these films was plainly “Hey, I guess we should make some more Planet of the Apes movies.”

Friday, 29 January 2021

Your Move, Darwin #10: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

(Before I start this one, I'd like to take a moment to dedicate this one to Planet of the Apes superfan Mark Talbot-Butler, who passed away recently. I did not know Mark well, but he was a hugely positive presence in the fan community, and was an invaluable help in the writing of several of the earlier posts in this series, which I'm only really returning to because Mark has passed, and I feel I owe it to the guy to finish the work I began. Mark is and will continue to be missed.)  

In any movie franchise, especially a genre franchise, you inevitably wind up doing a retread or two. You have to. You’ll always have to return to some ideas, because that's what makes it a sequel. In the era of the reboot, this is more acute still, as essentially you sometimes wind up making the same film, only with some parts updated, or even some messages flipped, so you get a Godzilla movie where they save the world with a nuclear bomb, or a Robocop movie where only some of the corporate executives are baddies, or a Superman movie where he's an objectivist who doesn't care about the consequences of collateral damage. Or a Spider-Man movie reboot where everything is pretty much exactly the same apart from Aunt May being sorta hot.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

So I Found my Light

A poem for Christmas. You can hear me read an audio version here.

So I found my light on Christmas Eve last year,
After some searching, hidden in the attic,
stored in a dusty cardboard box, sealed away with gaffer tape.
I had to tear through the tape with my front door key,
Felt the dust coating my fingertips as I handled the flaps, the
Scrunched up newspaper in which I had wrapped it.
And I knelt on the MDF boards
And the knees of my jeans turned black
And I held the light in my lap and bathed in the warmth of it
The truth of it, the nearly forgotten youth of it
All hand made and sort of intricate,
With little lumps and dots and little scrawly swirly
things that might be words
On the surface that I never could fathom
All tied together with golden wire and glue you couldn’t see
And wondered why I put it away so long.
The other one had broken. I’d had it for a while, and
It was brighter, lighter in the hand, and if it flickered more
It illuminated in a way that hid the imperfections,
Buzzed a little, just enough to mask the bum notes.
And yeah, the batteries were expensive and
The only words that you could see on the side said
Made in China and don’t blame me, don't judge me, don’t
The old light made it too easy to see the things that were
Wrong with me, and if it made things warm and if it made
Things clear
it was
sort of
Awkward, and it showed me things I didn’t want to see
You couldn’t turn it off and sometimes it is easier
To live in a world where you can’t see except with a plastic light
Because human relationships are fragile and it takes courage to have them

If we shared the grief of all the world
it would crush us all to pieces in a second, flat
And sometimes even seeing a little bit is far too much
And so I hid it away in scrunched up pages of the Guardian
In a cardboard box in the attic

And got a new one off the internet and the problem
With the light you get off the internet is that you never
Get a guarantee and it wears out and maybe
I thought, it’s better not to have a light at all,
And hey a lot of people manage if they don’t have a light
And then I went without for a month or two,
And people who saw me, even people who didn’t have a light themselves
Went hey, what happened to your light? And I took to thinking
And up the ladder I went and here it is all shining, shining in my hands
And I will try it out for a while in all its handmade personalised
Awkwardness and beauty and shed my light upon the world.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Cult Cinema #33: Counting to Nun, Part Three

Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od Aniołów) (1961)

(Can you actually spoil a historical drama made in 1961? If you can, I do.)

The historical events surrounding the incident of the Loudun Devils have been analysed and fictionalised several times, and while Ken Russell’s version is probably the most notorious for English-speaking film fans, it isn’t all there is. Possibly the most nuanced and interesting version is Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s classic Mother Joan of the Angels (AKA Matka Joanna od Aniołów, 1961) which might predate The Devils by a good decade but concerns itself with what happens next. Like Russell, Kawalerowicz used a fictionalised account as a portal through which he accessed the story; while Russell worked with Huxley, Kawalerowicz adapted Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz’s novel, also titled Matka Joanna od Aniołów, which, like Huxley, used the historical events of seventeenth century Loudun as an allegory for the present.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Question in Bodies #29: Ruby Sparks (2012)

(Spoilers, of course.)

A while back a friend expressed surprise that Ruby Sparks was marketed as a romantic comedy rather than a horror film. It turns out that Ruby Sparks, the story of a writer who finds inspiration when the perfect/imperfect girlfriend he creates not only comes to life but behaves in line with whatever he types on his pretentiously old school typewriter, is neither. Is it that good? It's all right. Is it interesting? Yes. 

Calvin (Paul Dano) was at one time an important voice in young adult fiction, inasmuch as he once wrote a multimillion-selling teen romance novel, which you might as well call, something like, oh I don't know, The Star in Our Faults. He's been coasting on that for a decade, and he lives alone in a nice house and hasn't had much luck in love and every day he fails to write something on that pretentiously old school typewriter. So far, so cringe. 

Sunday, 13 December 2020