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SCARY MOVIE: a post-modern horror spoof without any post-modern wit (2000 in Film #26)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of July 7th, Keenen Ivory Wayans’ Scary Movie

All through watching Scary Movie, a film I missed twenty years ago the first time around, I kept thinking as I sat, largely stone-faced and more than a bit repulsed… would 18 year old Tony have found this funny?

The answer is, honestly, yes. Probably. 18 year old Tony found Road Trip, which we discussed earlier this summer, very funny at the time. It certainly isn’t as nasty as Scary Movie in its frat-boy comedy but it’s just as base, obvious and cheap. Both of these films are aimed, squarely, at youthful or teenage audiences who are rewarded by cheap laughs. However, Scary Movie comes from a different stable. Road Trip is an extension of the post-modern revival of the teen sex comedy. Keenen Ivory Wayans’ spoof harkens back to the Zucker Brothers or Mel Brooks brand of cinematic spoof, in this case directly lampooning the modern horror genre, particularly the post-modern horror genre made up of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, with a few other examples sprinkled in.

In fact, Miramax—the production company behind Scary Movie—were already producing a Scream spoof when the film was written, and WGA arbitration gives the writers of that other script credit here given the ideas were undoubtedly fused together to make what would become Scary Movie. The targets are primarily recent examples of the horror movie inversion, the meta-textual examination of horror tropes, characters and narratives which earlier this year remained still in evidence with Scream 3, which was derided (perhaps unfairly) for taking the concept to the max and making films within films, examining Hollywood within that spectrum. It was perhaps both too soon for a spoof like Scary Movie and exactly the right time, given the sizeable box office take that would lead, over the next fifteen years, to four sequels.

Here’s the thing, though. Scary Movie is terrible. Not just terrible, but *horrible*, and considering it so desperately wants to ape Airplane or Hot Shots etc… it is, despite being younger than those films, infinitely already much more dated.

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THE PATRIOT: an entertaining, if troubling, slice of jingoistic, historical fantasy (2000 in Film #25)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of June 30th, Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot

If we have seen American cinema across the year 2000 attempt in some way to reconcile America’s place in history as we enter a new millennium, The Patriot is heavily concerned in re-writing and re-conceptualising it.

The Patriot wasn’t actually the biggest box office hit of this weekend, coming in a little short (unexpectedly) of Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm. Though both are highly different movies playing in different eras with very different concepts, both do share a particular, definable ‘Americanism’ that even for Hollywood is powerful and potent. The Perfect Storm, telling the story of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel out of Massachusetts that sank during the so-called ‘Perfect Storm’ of 1991, boasts a tremendous cast of character actors spearheaded by a grumpy George Clooney and hot-headed Mark Wahlberg but suffers under the weight of melodramatic exceptionalism, overblowing a far more tragic real life story for rousing, heroic and ultimately bittersweet Hollywood effect. Jaws by way of Twister and saccharine, Lifetime drama.

Both this and Roland Emmerich’s take on the American Revolutionary War share a dubious claim on historical accuracy in the same vein of U-571 earlier in the year, and to an extent Gladiator, except the latter looked more inside out on what American exceptionalism actually means at the turn of the 21st century than either of these two films. The Perfect Storm, which—in a very local side note—had its UK premiere at a recently opened Midlands entertainment centre called Star City, with Clooney and Wahlberg in attendance, is now remembered more for the nautical effects—particularly the gigantic wave that sinks the Andrea Gail—than the overwrought script and performances, which pitch these real-life sailors as reckless, masculine sea lovers who needlessly throw themselves into the eye of the storm not just for bounty but for male obsession. It may have performed more strongly at the box office but The Patriot lingers further in the minds’ eye, serving as the first significant Hollywood take in some years on America’s bloody, foundational history.

In truth, the timing of The Patriot, and what it brings to 2000’s ongoing exploration of America’s past and future, is especially timely.

Tony Talks #24: A. J. Black – Published Author!

So it has finally happened guys… I am a published author!

Myth-Building in Modern Media: The Role of the Mytharc in Imagined Worlds is finally now available to purchase via Amazon and all good bookshops. It won’t necessarily be on all shelves but you can order online. I’ll provide links at the bottom should you wish to be very kind and purchase. The paperback isn’t cheap but the price point is a bit more agreeable via Kindle, and I recommend asking your library to stock it so then you can read it for free. If you do spend your hard earned money on this, my eternal thanks. Please do let me know what you think too, ideally via an Amazon/Goodreads rating/review, or by messaging me via this blog or my social media pages. I’d love to hear what you make of it.

Here’s the blurb once again if you remain on the fence:

ALIAS – ‘The Telling’ (2×22 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

The title of the Season Two finale of Alias is something of a coy misdirect. The Telling promises much in the way of answers to a series filled with questions and, ultimately, simply piles more questions on top of the pile.

This is, however, as it should be. Alias was built on mystery box storytelling. J.J. Abrams, who returns to write and direct this episode, the first time in that double role since the series pilot Truth Be Told (and his last as show runner of the series), constructed Alias atop a house of cards in terms of narrative enigma and steadily unfurling character dynamics which, particularly in the second half of this season, have begun to fall to pieces as the series contracted and morphed into something new. The Telling serves as the conclusion of that transitory process and the beginning of an entirely new one.

Abrams’ script and story are extremely confident in not just picking up from where Second Double left off, as all of the character and story threads across the season begin coming together, but delivering a series of conclusive beats which are incredibly rewarding as a viewer. The tantalising mystery of Sloane’s Rambaldi device and the arcane mythology behind Syd’s ultimate confrontation with Irina; the climactic revelation and supremely cathartic fight between Syd and Evil Francie as the most personal truth of the season is revealed, and finally what has to rank as one of the most stunning and brazen cliffhangers, and one of the best examples of mystery box storytelling, that genre television has ever delivered.

The Telling might not quite live up to the tease of its title. It might not lay bare all of the secrets Alias has to offer. But it does reward the audience as the capstone to a remarkably successful twenty two episodes of storytelling, given how different the show looks from where we began in The Enemy Walks In.

ALIAS – ‘Second Double’ (2×21 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

Though not officially classed as a two-part season finale for Alias, Second Double originally aired on the same night as The Telling, which gives the structure of this episode very much the feeling of a story that is inextricably linked.

Second Double operates on multiple fronts, as both the beginning of a season finale tying together numerous threads which have unfurled across the latter half of Season Two, and as a direct sequel of sorts to Double Agent, which introduced the central idea of Project Helix and the doubling technology. Crystal Nix Hines’ teleplay, from a story by Breen Frazier (though it is likely this was heavily or at least partially re-written by J.J. Abrams in advance of the finale), reasserts the significance of this plot strand by finally starting to pay off the Evil Francie storyline that has been nicely cooking since the end of Phase One. It is satisfying for the audience to see Syd and the main characters around her starting to catch up with us, given we have been a step ahead and aware of Francie’s death and Will being compromised for the last third of the season.

In that sense, Second Double feels more like the beginning of a boulder running downhill which the last couple of episodes have been steadily pushing back up the hill following the climactic point of Truth Takes Time. Endgame and Countdown were both transitory episodes in which our principle villains didn’t make significant strides in their master plan and which focuses more on character or theme – the duality of Elsa and Neil Caplan, or Dixon and Sloane’s voyages of post-traumatic discovery. Second Double from the very beginning kicks over some dominoes, having the CIA close in on the mole who has influenced events in A Dark Turn and Endgame, which dovetails with Irina and Sark, in particular, having to compromise, gamble and adapt to stay one step ahead of Sydney and her colleagues.

Consequently, Second Double feels too inextricably linked with the episode to come to feel entirely functional as an episode of its own, but it threads numerous character beats and ongoing plots to quite fast-paced, thrilling effect. Much like Truth Takes Time, it once again personalises all of the espionage scheming and threats to national security to make for a story that resonates for our protagonist.

ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘The Return of the Speckled Band’ (1×06 – Series Retrospective #6)

30 years old in 2020, I’m going to look at David Renwick’s unique British sitcom One Foot in the Grave to celebrate the anniversary of one of the UK’s most innovative comedy series of all time…

We continue by looking at the sixth and final episode of the first series, The Return of the Speckled Band, which first aired on February 8th, 1990…

As befits the traditional sitcom format, particularly the British sitcom format, the final Series 1 episode of One Foot in the Grave comes with no great moment of cathartic realisation for Victor Meldrew. Life goes on.

Whether the series would go on at this point was an open question. Critics remained divided, as they had been all series, about whether One Foot would become a classic or be consigned to the far more cluttered wrecking yard of failed British sitcoms. This being the era before online discourse, it was down to the print newspaper and their in-house critics to gauge the pulse of comedy, and while papers such as the Daily Mirror, the now-defunct Today or the Daily Express were favourable come the end of Series 1, others such as the Independent or the Daily Telegraph were quite the opposite. Christopher Tookey in the latter remarked that he felt the series offered “in general, a distorted and depressingly old-fashioned view of old age”.

The irony is that The Return of the Speckled Band might actually be the funniest half hour of the series so far. While by no means vintage One Foot, it certainly feels like David Renwick manages to latch here onto several strong comedic threads and take them to some satisfying conclusions, in a manner the previous five scripts never quite managed to do. Two that stand out in particular are the recurring problem of the hat palmed off on Victor that he tries to rid himself of but keeps coming back to him, and Mrs Warboys with her chronic sickness which intertwines with what otherwise would have been an enormously random narrative of an escaped python quite brilliantly. We haven’t quite seen Renwick weave his plots this skilfully yet in One Foot, and it displays what the series is capable of.

The Return of the Speckled Band also, in a relatively quiet fashion, dovetails with the opening episode of the series in suggesting Victor is trapped in an existential spiral he can never quite escape.

SHAFT: super-empty but super-cool thrills (2000 in Film #24)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of June 16th, John Singleton’s Shaft

Once again, this week, I’m handing over to the recurring spectre of 2013-era Tony who last looked at Shaft and devoted some thoughts to it, and once again I’m forced to make a confession: I still haven’t seen the original 1971 Shaft.

As a result, what I continue to wonder is whether I got from the 2000 sequel Shaft–and we must so denote the year as there now, as of 2019’s third sequel, three movies all in continuity and all just called Shaft–what I should have taken, not being conversant in the original. This Shaft, of course, wants to place a stamp on popular culture at the turn of the millennium by replacing Richard Roundtree as lead with Samuel L. Jackson, arguably sailing at the height of his career following his legendary turn in Pulp Fiction, a career that has never entirely faded. Jackson has made a fair amount of dross in the subsequent two decades but he remains in that elite tier of stars who are still A-list, still a household name, and thanks particularly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, still appearing in the biggest films in Hollywood.

Sadly, we did lose before his time the film’s director, Singleton, who died just aged 51 in 2019 and remains a sad loss not just to African-American cinema, but Hollywood in general. Not all of his films were great, indeed Shaft itself is by no means a great film, but he remains influential to the burgeoning, potentially great black filmmakers of the 2020’s – Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Ava DuVernay etc… all of whom have taken the gauntlet lain down by directors like Singleton and Spike Lee and ran with them. Shaft, in that sense, deserves to be remembered much like its well-known, 1970’s predecessor, and that is perhaps why this version is both a remake of sorts, *and* remains in continuity (a trick repeated by the 2019 Shaft), which was rare in cinema then and remains rare now, to serve both of those masters.

Time then to turn over to 2013-era Tony for his thoughts on whether Shaft lives up to the hype. Let’s find out…

ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘The Eternal Quadrangle’ (1×05 – Series Retrospective #5)

30 years old in 2020, I’m going to look at David Renwick’s unique British sitcom One Foot in the Grave to celebrate the anniversary of one of the UK’s most innovative comedy series of all time…

We continue by looking at the fifth episode of the first series, The Eternal Quadrangle, which first aired on February 1st, 1990…

Sex, and particularly sexual frustration, have always been key factors to One Foot in the Grave, and they get their first airing in The Eternal Quadrangle.

Thus far in the series, David Renwick has downplayed the side of Victor and Margaret that serves as a romantic pairing. We know they have been married for decades and are middle-aged and content in their domesticity. We don’t yet know they lost a child when young but we have assumed they are childless, given there is no mention, let alone visibility, of any offspring. What we don’t really know is how they engage with one another on a sexual or romantic level, and The Eternal Quadrangle poses a question that numerous future series of One Foot will regularly grapple with – do Victor and Margaret still engage with each other in a sexual manner? The answer, in short, is no. Or if they do, it is very seldom.

What becomes clear in The Eternal Quadrangle, too, is that Margaret has a much bigger issue where this is concerned than Victor himself does. Renwick doesn’t yet quite position her as deeply sexually frustrated, which becomes apparent in later series, but there is a disquiet where Margaret is concerned about how Victor deals with any woman she considers a threat, sexually, to her position as his wife. She never meets Doreen, the stately, middle-aged but slightly voluptuous nude model Victor paints at an art class, but especially early on in the episode she is especially jealous of her. “Did you have to draw her breasts in quite this much detail?” she asks, Annette Crosbie chewing the word ‘breasts’ around her mouth before spitting it out with a bitter distaste.

In the end, however, Renwick is keen with The Eternal Quadrangle to suggest, in their own different ways, Victor and Margaret have become as sexually anaemic, and as sexually oblivious, as each other.

Don’t Mention the Comedy: FAWLTY TOWERS and Reactionary Cultural Politics

Whether ten years old or close to a hundred, we have all seen Fawlty Towers at some point in our lives. We have either binge watched the series, casually caught it on a satellite channel or streaming service, or even seen clips on one of the many comedy panel or discussion shows over the years with talking heads discussing the brilliance of John Cleese’s monstrous creation Basil Fawlty.

What, though, is Fawlty Towers really *about*? What are all our comedies *about*, whether in the UK with a long-standing tradition of legendary comedic creations or the US with their penchant for long-running, familiar series? Every drama is about something and comedy is no different. The jokes are born from an idea or theme or societal construct the writer is looking to explore. One Foot in the Grave, which I’m currently examining episode by episode, sees David Renwick unpicking the listlessness of the working man at the tail end of Thatcherite neoliberalism after Victor Meldrew is displaced by a heartless corporate system. Only Fools and Horses was a fantasy of working class meritocracy, of Derek, and in a different way Rodney, Trotter overcoming their background of poverty and struggle to try and prove their worth within an elitist class system where the deck is stacked against them.

Following the surge of protests across the world after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there has been a swift trickle-down effect in terms of racial politics which has proven, this week, to be on some level ‘knee-jerk’. Britbox and BBC iPlayer started by removing the 2000’s Matt Lucas & David Walliams’ series Little Britain, which was always festooned with sketches that were politically incorrect even back then, citing that “times have changed”, while Netflix subsequently pulled The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh as both display characters who engage in what would be termed ‘blackface’. Catch up service UKTV subsequently removed the well-known Fawlty Towers episode The Germans, featuring Basil’s infamous line “Don’t mention the war!”, due to the overt racism displayed by the character, and the use of racial slurs by an ageing colonial character. This has been questioned by some who feel the reactionary cultural politics of the moment has gone too far.

I’m wondering the same. I understand some of these examples. The Germans, however, is an example in which context is missing, and with comedy, context is king.

ALIAS – ‘Countdown’ (2×20 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

Countdown is quite a strange episode of Alias, especially considering the placement of it toward the end of Season Two.

A season ago, The Solution began establishing the key narrative pieces that would build up into the finale, that played out over the next two episodes, but Countdown doesn’t quite operate in that way. Jeff Pinkner’s screenplay—from R. P. Gaborno’s story—certainly contains ongoing pieces of the narrative in play, but it chooses to specifically focus on two characters who are going through the same trauma in very different ways: Dixon and Sloane, both of whom killed each other’s wives. In that sense, it almost hits the pause button on the thrust of the Rambaldi narrative and the majority of the other storylines, to facilitate these two key character arcs.

At the same time, Countdown chooses to hone in on an aspect of the Rambaldi mythology which has never been expressly explored, outside vaguely of the nebulous quatrains in The Prophecy: the idea that Rambaldi is not just analogous to Leonardo da Vinci but also Michel de Nostradame, the 16th century prophet who predicted, with varying degrees of accuracy that have been questioned by historians for centuries, a wide range of future apocalyptic events and key points in ‘future history’. The very conception of Rambaldi was as ‘Nostravinci’, a fusion of these two legendary figures of the Renaissance, but while Alias has given us plenty of examples of Rambaldi as Da Vinci, there have been few points to date where he could be compared to Nostradamus. Countdown changes that. Countdown suggests Rambaldi could see the future as well as create technology that was centuries ahead of his time, and in many ways beyond our own.

Indeed, for all Rambaldi’s prophecies and mythology influences Alias in the next three seasons, we never quite get an episode like Countdown again, where the prophet’s hand reaches out from the 15th century and directly threats to destroy the world of the 21st. …