Month: August 2019

Film Review: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a film about the power of narrative, hence why much of the action takes place on a key night in 1968.

Just after Halloween, always a night popular with horror films as a setting, in 1968 saw election night of the next President of the United States, a night in which Richard Nixon finally was elevated to the position of Commander-in-Chief. While Andre Ovredal’s adaptation of the children’s book series by Alvin Schwartz is primarily concerned with the terrifying events swirling around bookish teenager Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her friends as they are haunted by the murderous stories of a tormented spirit, the story undulates with the ominous spectre of Nixon’s election looming over small-town America, the kind of latent 1950’s hangover, Midwestern town that wouldn’t go amiss in the world of Stephen King.

Schwartz’s original book takes place at the tail end of the 1960’s, a decade in which the counter-cultural revolution swept its way across the Western world, particularly the United States, though it seems to have passed Mill Valley, Pennsylvania by. Stella is haunted by her mother’s abandonment, perhaps to explore the big city world offered by the promise of the 60’s. Her friend Auggie (Gabriel Rush) is a middle-aged man in a young guy’s body, while mysterious stranger Ramon (Michael Garza) turns out to be a draft dodger – avoiding the senseless Vietnam conflict that killed his brother. These are not teenagers rushing headlong into a heady 60’s of abandonment, if anything they are anxious and rooted by their circumstances. This makes them far more contemporary and relatable than their period setting suggests.

Nixon’s re-election is a sign, given the US is now experiencing its most divisive and controversial President since ‘Tricky Dicky’, that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has one eye on our current problem of confused, false narratives.

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Very early on, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan positions itself as a film not just about life and death, but also about age.

We like to think of Captain James T. Kirk as one of the iconic heroic figures of 20th century media. Gene Roddenberry envisaged Star Trek as a Western in space, a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, and for the second film director Nicholas Meyer thought a lot about Horatio Hornblower, from the mid-20th century novels by C. S. Forester. The younger Kirk was a space cowboy, an honourable sharpshooter riding his starship steed across the galaxy with his trusty crew, encountering life forms, putting out fires, starting a few unintentionally, and finding a girl in almost every port. Meyer reconfigures Kirk in middle-age as the swaggering commander in chief, the seasoned voyager whose cowboy days are long over. “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor” he tells Leonard McCoy, after all.

Yet this elder Kirk is restless and Meyer conveys this from the beginning. Following the disastrous Kobayashi Maru, Kirk’s trusty, unlikely best friend, the equally seasoned and middle-aged Spock, presents his commander with a birthday present – Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic A Tale of Two Cities, in a beautiful, historic hardback edition. Kirk reads the legendary opening lines: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times… message, Spock?”. Kirk understands that his friend gives everything deliberate and naturally, as a Vulcan, logical thought, so guesses Spock would not have passed this book onto him on such a key day arbitrarily. “None that I’m conscious of” Spock replies coyly, but we don’t believe either. Kirk is intelligent and well read enough to be aware Spock detects in him a melancholy, a sorrow, which the Kobayashi Maru—a reminder of his youthful brio—serves to simply underscore.

Captain Kirk is gone. Admiral Kirk endures. Yet what is left when the cowboy hangs up his boots?

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt I – ‘A No-Win Scenario’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

In many senses, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the second coming of the Star Trek franchise.

While 1979 had given us The Motion Picture, a film which has improved like a fine wine with age, The Wrath of Khan imposed a framework and iconic visual structure which defined Gene Roddenberry’s creation across the subsequent films of the 1980’s and into The Next Generation sequel TV series and spin-offs over the next two decades. The Wrath of Khan, under the guiding hand of Nicholas Meyer, rediscovered a humanity within Star Trek that the elegant but stale The Motion Picture struggled to recapture, existing at the end of a depressed 70’s where the optimism and colour of the original 1960’s show had been ripped from the American psyche.

That film removed certain key principles of Star Trek’s original mission statement. Time had passed and the crew of the USS Enterprise were, to a degree, diffused. James T. Kirk had been promoted. Spock had left Starfleet. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy grew a beard and went through a failed marriage. The ship even had a new Captain in the young, handsome yet naive Willard Decker. Come the end of The Motion Picture, the crew were reunited and, as the film promised, ‘the human adventure is just beginning…’, but what would that voyage look like? The world of the 1980’s was a far different one from that of 1969, when the Original Series of Star Trek was initially cancelled after three seasons.

The Motion Picture proved it could never entirely return to where it began.

Film Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

There is a different aura around Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. There is the sense of a film maker continuing to season, to look back, not just at his own legacy but that of cinema itself in the last half century.

The title almost says it all. Not just a nod and wink to the king of QT’s beloved Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone, and his epic Once Upon a Time in the West, but rather acknowledgement that Tarantino has crafted a Hollywood fable and, as a result, what has to be the most sweet-natured picture he has ever given us. Gone are the loud, vituperative gangsters or assassins, war heroes or slave traders, replaced by the most sensitive of all warriors: the actor.

Book Review: THE SPIDER DANCE (Nick Setchfield) + Author Interview

Just under a year ago on my honeymoon, perched by a pool in Phuket, Thailand, baking under stunning sunshine, I found myself about to start Nick Setchfield’s debut novel The War in the Dark, one of several books grabbed as holiday reading. What followed could just have been considered a holiday romance – a dalliance with a tome that blew me away by how stylish, urbane, witty and exciting it turned out to be. It was anything but. I have waited patiently this last year for The Spider Dance to see if that experience might be repeated.
The good news is that, on the whole, it has.