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The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

The age of streaming is well and truly upon us, guys.

This, you already know. You no doubt subscribe to a wealth of different providers. If you’re in the States, you’re overloaded with cable channels alongside streaming giants. If you’re in the UK, satellite TV and the dominance of Sky has given way to Netflix or Amazon Prime, and soon the new big movers and shakers on the immediate horizon – Apple TV+ and Disney+. You even have, tucked away within Prime, a range of sub-channels depending on your taste – Mubi, StarzPlay, BFI, Shudder and if you want a reality TV fix, Hayu (though I doubt many readers of this blog are subscribers there…).

I’d like you to pause for a minute or two and consider another kid on the block. He’s been there for a while, lurking on your plasma smart TV’s, quietly waiting for a chance to impress. His name is Rakuten and he’s actually got some skin in the game, I’ve found recently. Here’s why.

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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…

Though it retains the innate sense of optimism built into Star Trek’s world view, The Wrath of Khan approaches Gene Roddenberry’s universe from far more of a humanistic, historical naval tradition.

Starfleet of The Original Series was a crew of cowboy scientists galloping, as James T. Kirk suggests, through space. Nicholas Meyer’s film recasts the organisation as a respectful militaristic structure riven with rule and tradition. The Federation may not be equivalent to the British Empire of the 19th century, but if Kirk is Captain Horatio Hornblower and the U.S.S. Enterprise his frigate, Starfleet most certainly is a classical ‘space Navy’ in a way that wasn’t apparent in The Motion Picture.

What facilitated this change? Why did Meyer see Starfleet, later described in JJ Abrams’ reboot as a “humanitarian and peacekeeping armada”, in terms of rank and file, of rules and regulations?

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An all new podcast about cinema I’ve just launched with my friend and podcast buddy, Carl Sweeney.

Motion Pictures is designed to be more of an informal, free-flowing chat about movies, geared around a topic of the week. There will also be choice episodes around an idea, whatever takes our fancy really! It’s an exciting project.

In this third episode, Carl and I discuss Todd Phillips’ controversial Joker as part of a broader topic regarding the ethics of Anti-Heroes in cinema, via films such as Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy or Fight Club, and whether they are irresponsible in their approach. We also wade into the Martin Scorsese ‘Marvel films are not cinema’ fracas…

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If there is one decade of cinema that defines the horror genre, it is without doubt the 1980’s, a statement In Search of Darkness seeks to definitively justify. This is an extensive, four-hour plus deep dive into the darker, seedier side of cinema’s equally oft-reviled and beloved genre.

David A. Weiner’s documentary will perhaps disappoint those looking for a searing examination of cult, exploitative 80’s horror. Some of the more extreme examples *are* referenced—Cannibal Ferox, for instance—but this is primarily a deconstruction focused on the biggest and boldest examples of horror across a decade filled to burst with many of the more legendary franchises still prevalent in popular culture today – Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm St, Hellraiser, the list goes on. Only horror aficionados can truly attest to whether In Search of Darkness provides new insights into the genre but Weiner leaves no stone unturned in exploring all of the components that constitute 80’s horror, and the genre in general.

For someone like me, without a true grounding in the era or genre, In Search of Darkness was an illuminating watch that didn’t necessarily introduce me to a range of new films I had never before heard of, but whetted my appetite to discover and know more about the ones I had.

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Even for a film devoted to perhaps the most iconic comic book villain in history, Joker has arrived front loaded with a measure of positive and negative hype mixed in with a significant level of anxiety and paranoia.

In that sense, Todd Phillips’ deconstruction of DC Comics villain The Joker, Batman’s eternal primary nemesis from almost a century of comic book lore, befits the approach taken by this detailed, Bat-free examination of the character. Phillips’ film takes a major cue from the work of Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker at the core of the American New Wave movement that defined 1970’s cinema, whose work has particularly concentrated on New York City. Were Joaquin Phoenix’s failed stand up comedian Arthur Fleck not a resident of the fictional, legendary Gotham City, Phillips’ film could easily be set in NYC. His Gotham has the same feel and texture, the same nihilistic cruelty and dystopian economic social and political divide. The early 80’s of Joker is Scorsese’s 70’s, riven through Phillips’ key inspirations such as Mean Streets or particularly Taxi Driver, not to mention the early 80’s showmanship of The King of Comedy.

It would therefore be easy to cast Joker off as a pure Scorsese-homage, or even rip off. Joker wears its inspirations very clearly on its sleeve, lifting Travis Bickle’s righteous fury at society’s decay or Rupert Pupkin’s delusional fantasy of fame and recognition, and porting them into Arthur’s descent into madness. Yet there is a case to be made that Phillips’ film and Arthur’s transformation are one and the same thing. Joker presents an origin story in which a murderous psychopath is created as a product of his environment, of his experiences, and of society’s evolution into the shape it is today. Joker, similarly, is an echo of a cinematic 70’s filled with pictures—such as Sidney Lumet’s Network or Serpico, or Alan J. Pakula’s conspiracy thrillers—that raged at the system, the inequality, and the corruption at the heart of American society. Joker, too, is a product of its own cinematic heritage. It feels like an evolution of the form.

The question is whether Joker, as a depiction of white male rage, is an irresponsible manifesto or a remarkable moment for comic book cinema.

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Hosted by myself and a collection of X-Files fans, The X-Cast: An X-Files Podcast is a weekly series delving into each episode of The X-Files and exploring supplemental topics, alongside interviews with cast and crew and other special events.

Returning to conclude coverage of The X-Files Season 4, I’m joined by Darren Mooney of The 250 and The M0vie Blog to discuss the season finale, ‘Gethsemane’, and dissect the season as a whole with our own, and listener, Top and Bottom 3 episodes of the season.

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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…

Star Trek and God have an interesting relationship. For a show revolving around scientific discovery and set in the cosmos, the franchise frequently returns to Biblical allegory and religious mystery. The Wrath of Khan is no exception, even for an ostensibly secular film.

How else can the Genesis Project be defined than the product of a God complex? The scientists of space station Regula 1, as directed by Dr. Carol Marcus, are well aware of how powerful the Genesis device is. “We are dealing with something that could be perverted into a dreadful weapon” agonises her son and fellow scientist, David, in the wake of being contacted by the U.S.S. Reliant as they scout out test sites for the project. These are scientists tethered to the Federation but not driven by Starfleet’s rhetoric who appreciate they have the power to create or destroy life, and David seems positively terrified that Starfleet itself could be inviolate, could corrupt their science. “Every time we have dealings with Starfleet, I get nervous…”. It would be hard to imagine Gene Roddenberry’s pure vision of humanity’s future space navy containing any suggestions they could warp the power of God.

Nicholas Meyer, in his humanistic and flawed version of the 23rd century, is far less convinced of Starfleet’s purity. He has lived through the horror of Vietnam just a decade before his take on Star Trek’s future, having witnessed progressive democracies almost destroyed by ideological fear, not to mention raised in the shadow of Hiroshima and the work of Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist whose noble actions led to a century-defining blight on American history. The Regula scientists react in horror at Reliant’s Captain Terrell openly wondering if the life signs detected on Ceti Alpha VI (or what they *think* to be Ceti Alpha VI) can be transplanted. ”It might only be a particle of preanimate matter”. The Federation already have powers over matter and space that would have been considered God-like to earlier humanity and Carol Marcus chafes at his casual lack of humility in the face of such power.

Little do any of them realise that on the surface of the planet lies an expression of corrupted humanity, a sundered ‘God’ resting in his own personal Dante’s inferno.

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