content by

Alasdair Stuart

Transformers: The Last Knight Isn’t Good, But There’s Still Some Hope for the Franchise

Let’s cut to the chase up front—Transformers: The Last Knight isn’t very good. At all.

It manages to sidestep the stultifying narrative incoherence of Age of Extinction and a good dose of the weird cruelty of Dark of the Moon, but runs headlong into the massive racial stereotypes of Revenge of the Fallen and the bloated running length of the entire franchise to date.

There’s a three headed robotic dragon in the movie. Somehow it’s still dull.

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Idris Elba Is So Damn Good in Genre Roles

With The Dark Tower hitting cinemas this year, his directorial debut Yardie having just finished principle photography, and John Luther set to fight London’s most twisted crime in an upcoming fifth season, Idris Elba is in the middle of a very prolific year. Elba’s always great, but some of his very best work to date has been in genre films, where he never fails to bring authority, humor, and intelligence to the role. Here are some of my favorites.

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Heart and Humor Made the Brendan Fraser Mummy Movies Great — Can the Dark Universe Reboot Match Them?

The Mummy is one of those monsters you just can’t keep down. The original Universal Monsters series of films ran from 1932 to 1955 and less than a decade later the bandaged one rose again, this time on the other side of the Atlantic. The Hammer series initially riffed off of Universal’s The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb but soon became their own shambling, unkillable beast, and like all Hammer flicks the worst they ever get is still pretty fun. They’re no Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter but then again, what is? Clive Barker even took a run at bringing the Mummy back to life but it never quite came to fruition. There’s a whole book to be written about Barker’s near-misses with horror franchises but his take on The Mummy is the one I’d honestly most like to have seen. Being Barker, the approach to the material would have been violent and sexy and “would have been a great low-budget movie,” in his own words. There’s an excellent Cinescape article that covers the never-made Barker film in their May 1999 issue.

Instead of Barker’s version, though, we eventually got a loose remake of the 1932 original, written and directed by Stephen Sommers in 1999. The Mummy and its sequels, The Mummy Returns and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Tomb of the Dragon Emperor helped to set the early 21st century’s gold standard for action cinema.

[These movies are FUN.]

Children, Victims, Monsters: Two Tales of Youth and Brutal Violence on the Moors

I recently read Chalk by Paul Cornell and Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski in quick succession and both left marks. Chalk centers on the reminiscences of Andrew Waggoner, looking back on the horrific bullying he suffered at school and the equally horrific, possibly supernatural, action he took in revenge. Six Stories is a podcast in book form, interviewing six people connected to the still unexplained death of a teenager found out on the moors in the early 1990s.

Both books are fiercely clever examinations of rural adolescence and the things it can do to you. I saw familiar beats in both, recognised characters between the narratives, but most of all, I was captivated by the fictional space they share. The setting of Six Stories is left a little geographically ambiguous but the moors that Waggoner rampages across are in Wiltshire. It’s hard not to feel their calm, vast spaces are the extrusion into the novel’s space of the metafictional common ground it shares with Six Stories. That common ground, and what really happens when you go wild in the country, is what we’ll be looking at here…

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Netflix Seems Set on Alienating Fans by Cancelling Sense8 and Renewing Iron Fist

Netflix has been batting a thousand recently. Since making their first steps into original programming, the streaming service has produced a seemingly constant river of shows that have never been less than interesting and frequently brilliant. They’ve even done this across multiple genres and formats; their documentary strands are flat out astounding, and Abstract and Mind of a Chef stand as two of the best documentaries being made in the West right now. Their comedies have taken in a range of styles and approaches with Grace and Frankie and Love standing out, in particular. Their TV remake/reboot of Dear White People is the single best written piece of TV you’ll see this year. Their dramas are, across the board, great: Bloodline, Marco Polo, 13 Reasons Why. All these shows have wildly different audiences, and all these shows take wildly different approaches. While some, 13 Reasons Why in particular, have caused controversy, there isn’t a single one that hasn’t had a rock solid artistic vision.

But now, Netflix have made the first legitimately massive mistake of their original streaming content era.

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Remember When the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies Were Fun?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (aka: Salazar’s Revenge) hit theaters over the weekend. It’s the fifth movie in a series that arguably should have finished after the third one, and it’s coming out at a time when its star is not so much in decline as plummeting back down to Earth in flames. Enthusiasm for the franchise as a whole, is…well…it’s actually still relatively massive given that the previous film, On Stranger Tides, took just over a billion dollars at the box office. But despite that, Dead Men Tell No Tales is a movie that no one seems quite sure they really wanted.

So I figured now would be a perfect time to take a look at what made the first movies work and if they still stand up…turns out, they do!


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Sarah Gailey on Heists, Hope, Feral Hippos, and Defiantly Joyful Characters

Sarah Gailey’s debut novella, River of Teeth, is now out. This means that one of my favourite novellas this decade is now available to the public. You really, really should check it out. It’s a fiercely creative, very funny, very smart and gleefully subversive Western. Which is also an action movie. And a heist story. And features hippos. I talked to her about these things and much more.

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Corey J. White on Space Witches, Misfits, and Found Families

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White follows Mars Xi as she makes her way through life. And through space. Mars is a fiercely competent, brutally efficient woman who can kill you with her mind. But whether she knows it or not, Mars is about to get the last thing she expected: help. And she’s going to need it, because the past is far from done with her or her newfound friends…

It’s a great novella: character- and idea-heavy, but action-packed and light on its feet. I talked to Corey about Killing Gravity, how he writes, and the future.

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The Good, the Bad, the Sexist, and the Ridiculous in Alien: Covenant

The Covenant is en route to set up what’s implied to be one of the first interstellar colonies. With 2000 colonists in cryo sleep and a crew of 15, the ship is state of the art, packed with everything the colony will need, and ready to make history. That is until first an accident, and then an impossibility lead them to the discovery of a new target world. Closer, far better suited to their needs than the original destination, and home to an apparently human generated signal where no human has ever been before. Rattled, desperate for some good news and curious, the crew of the Covenant takes a look. And that’s when the trouble really starts…

Sir Ridley Scott makes a second return to the Alien franchise with Covenant and the good news is it’s much more successful than his first trip back in Prometheus. The bad news is that this is arguably the least accessible of the Alien movies to date. Where the previous movies are refreshingly simple in concept (they basically boil down to: “Truckers vs. angry ant!”, “Marines vs. lots of angry ants!”, “The highest budget episode of Oz EVER!”, “Firefly Episode Zero vs Angry Ants!’, and, finally, “Idiots vs. Erich Von Däniken’s fever dreams!”) this is an Alien prequel in name and a Prometheus sequel in intent. Everything we see, from that mysterious signal to the creature itself, is closely tied to Scott’s most recent entry in the franchise.

[Spoilers Ahead.]

How Alien: Covenant Could Resurrect the Franchise

It’d be very easy to look at Alien: Covenant with the wrong sort of fear and trepidation, or to simply dismiss it without giving it a chance. It’s a possibly unnecessary sequel that ties together two series/storylines set in the same universe, has a near impossible job to do fixing the mess left by its predecessor, Prometheus (the not-quite-prequel to the earlier films), and is operating at a serious goodwill deficit where its core fandom is concerned.

But you know what? Let’s be positive. Let’s look under the hood—the terrifying, chitinous, bio-mechanical hood—of these movies and see where they stand as a franchise as we head in to Alien: Covenant. What are the key concepts that tie all of these movies together, the narrative webbing holding up the complex, resinous hive that is the Alien franchise? What makes these stories work?

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is Already a Hit — But Is It Good? (Non-Spoiler Review)

Sequels are like second albums—hard to produce, even harder to produce well. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a textbook example of the challenge any creative endeavor faces when it’s sequel time: a massive commercial and critical success initially underestimated by everyone is something you only get to be once. The second time out, you have to deliver something new while building and riffing on everything that made the first movie a success.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does both these things, and also manages to directly address one of the MCU’s most persistent structural issues.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Is A Story About Finding, and Choosing, Your Family

There’s a moment towards the end of classic British sitcom Spaced where Simon Pegg’s character, Tim Bisley, pleads with his landlady for forgiveness. The eventual scene where she forgives him, this being Spaced, involves a tank—but the first time Tim tries it, there’s one line that really strikes you, a line that’s repeated a few times in the final episode:

“They say the family of the twenty-first century is made up of friends, not relatives….”

Tim could have been talking about the Guardians of the Galaxy. (In fact, I like to think he probably is talking about them, right now, somewhere just off Meteor Street.) Guardians of the Galaxy may not be strictly a family film, but it’s one defined by family. The first two scenes alone set the stage as young Peter Quill, horrified and grief-stricken, refuses to see his dying mother for the last time. It’s a gut-wrenching moment, the last possible thing you’d expect at the start of an ostensible action-comedy superhero movie, and absolutely the opposite of every single opening scene we’ve seen in a Marvel movie. It shocks you, wakes you up, and is followed by a gear change that’s even more drastic.

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Amazon’s Oasis Pilot: Thoughtful SF That Deserves a Series

There’s a point early on in Oasis, one of the contenders in Amazon’s new pilot season, which grounds the episode perfectly: Peter Leigh, a recently widowed priest with some serious concerns about his future in the church, has been functionally drafted onto the next mission to Oasis, the first interstellar colony. He has nothing left on Earth, so he agrees to go.

The technology that propels him into orbit is very clearly slightly modified Russian boosters. There’s the same tapered design, the same steppe-based launch facility and the same sense of Peter riding into orbit on the top of a very large, intensely combustible object that someone has only just finished soldering together. It feels real, and clunky, and untidy.

That realism is carried through to Oasis itself. When Peter arrives, he finds in short order that Oasis is not the lush One Percenter paradise it’s portrayed as back on Earth. The first thing that happens after he lands is that his descent capsule is immediately cut apart to use in building the colony. The second is that he’s told his ticket home will be available at the end of his contract. Still dazed, he finds himself in the midst of a colony that either doesn’t want him or is terrified that it may need him…because, as it turns out, founder Peter Morgan has disappeared and everyone is frightened to sleep. When they do, they see things: the worst things they’ve done in their past, transposed to the arid blank canvas of Oasis and desperate for attention…

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Ode to The Master: A Brief History of Everybody’s Favorite Evil Time Lord (or Lady)

About a week ago, the BBC were forced to confirm that John Simm would be returning to Doctor Who to play The Master alongside Michelle Gomez’s Missy. While the manner of this spoiler damage control was colossally annoying, it’s led to a lot of fun speculation about just how well the two incarnations will work together. A lot of people are expecting a Master vs. Missy showdown, but, given the clear throughline of the character over the course of the show’s history, I think they’re going to get on like someone else’s house on fire.

Roger Delgado was the first actor in the role, appearing for the first time in “Terror of the Autons.” The character was set up, almost straight away, as a dark mirror of the Doctor. What made him especially interesting was how that gave context to the often mercurial, difficult-to-like Third Doctor. Where he was impulsive and at times dismissive, Delgado’s Master was calm, patient, and even likeable, in a way that made the Third Doctor’s emotional growth all the more powerful and, in turn, the Master’s lack of it all the more telling.

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