content by

Alasdair Stuart

Essential Viewing: The Films of Guillermo del Toro

Let’s hear it for Guillermo del Toro, ladies and gentlemen! One of the most passionate and articulate advocates for genre (in particular) and narrative (in general) as a force for good finally picked up a long overdue best Director Oscar earlier this month. His prolific body of work is filled with movies that are worth your time, so if you’re looking for where to go next in his filmography (or just in need of some excellent rewatch options), here are some suggestions…

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Joss Whedon’s Exit is a Huge Opportunity for Batgirl and the DCEU

Joss Whedon has stepped away from the Batgirl movie, citing the fact he just didn’t have a story to tell. It’s an interesting moment of honesty but, regardless of your overall opinion of him, Whedon doesn’t matter in this instance. What does matter is that one of DC’s most iconic characters is in need of a director and scriptwriter, and DC have a massive opportunity to use that need to signal a sea change in their approach.

It’s not concrete, not yet, but in the wake of Wonder Woman’s success, DC finally seems intent on bringing some variety to their movie universe. We’ll see for sure when the first stills from Shazam! hit—those are due any day now, apparently. Regardless, there’s a real sense—embodied within the movie universe itself by the return of Superman—of hope coming to the DCEU for the first time in a while. A major change, for sure, and a welcome one at that. Batgirl is the perfect character to be in this pivotal position: a fundamentally hopeful, pragmatic heroine with one yellow Doc Marten in noir and the other in action adventure.

[Let’s look at some potentially game-changing writers and directors…]

Is There Still Hope for The Walking Dead?

The Walking Dead, which returns for the second half of its eight season this Sunday, finds itself in the midst of interesting times. Yet again. It feels like overly familiar territory, at this point. The Walking Dead is a show that excels at pushing its luck, knowing full well that there is fertile ground out beyond its viewers’ comfort zones—and trusting them to follow it loyally, out and back again.

In the first half of this season, for the first time, it may genuinely have gone too far.

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How Netflix is Changing Science Fiction (Beyond Big Marketing Gimmicks)

Sense8. Okja. Bright. The OA. Mute. Travelers. Dark. Altered Carbon. The Cloverfield Paradox. Plus The Expanse and Annihilation, internationally speaking. In the last few years Netflix has positioned itself as a hub for contemporary genre fiction TV and movies. And these titles are just the tip of the iceberg; Netflix’s anime slate is impressive too, not to mention their laundry list of other live action TV shows and movies.

In terms of the company’s recent SFF releases, the movie slate they’ve put together is worth taking a serious look at. Specifically, Bright, Mute, Annihilation, and The Cloverfield Paradox. Those four movies tell us a lot not only about Netflix’s approach, but also about the way mid-level, cerebral science fiction and fantasy is viewed in the west at the moment. While it’s not all bad news, it’s certainly not all good, either.

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How Jordan Peele’s Get Out Made Low-Budget Horror Oscar-Worthy

Get Out is the first truly great western horror movie of the 21st Century. It’s Rosemary’s Baby for the post-millennial world, a social horror story that is seethingly angry, terrified, terrifying, and frequently hilarious. I work with horror for my day job—normally prose but often cinema too—and Get Out is one of the finest horror movies I have ever seen. Hell, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It absolutely deserves every single one of its Oscar nominations—deserves to sweep the board, in fact. Whether it will do so is dependent on how fond the Academy is of World War II (odds are, far too much) and or sexy mermen (hopefully very), but even getting to this stage, to these awards? It’s unprecedented in about a dozen different ways.

That unprecedented success is particularly impressive when you consider its production history and realize that Get Out is the perfect expression of the same cinematic equation behind movies such as Insidious, Ouija, The Conjuring, and The Purge.

[Here’s how Peele and the Blumhouse model changed the game…]

Everything You Need to Know about Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is a US/UK produced anthology series adapting ten of Dick’s short stories for the big screen. It’s very much in the Black Mirror style, presenting standalone episodes with strongly individual visual identities under a single banner. It starts airing in the US today (January 12th)) on Amazon Video—but thanks to some, shall we say, eccentric scheduling decisions, the first six episodes aired in the UK last year.

Here’s your guide to what to expect (avoiding major spoilers, of course), and which episodes to seek out!

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Great Holiday Movies in Which Everything Goes Wrong

So, the festive season is officially upon us. U.K. shopping centres are all playing the same jolly-but-also-intensely-misanthropic-and-grumpy mix tape they run every year, the supermarkets are trying to out-schmaltz each other with their ads, and festive jumpers are springing up all over the country like cheerful, pun-laden woolen triffids.

This all means one thing: the time for festive movies is at hand! And I’m not talking the never-ending stream of “It Happened One Christmas Eve” Lifetime movies, fun as they are. Oh no, this is the good stuff. The odd stuff. The stuff where things get weird. And sometimes, on occasion, explode.

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Directors Who Could Make Really Interesting Star Trek Films

Quentin Tarantino apparently has a great idea for a Star Trek movie. While that’s a “jumbo shrimp” sentence if ever you heard one, it’s also true. It’s an idea that the studio is so enamoured with that a writers’ room has been assembled in order to workshop it.

There are really two things going on here. The first is the slight possibility of Tarantino being given a Star Trek movie. I’ve personally not connected with his work for a while, but he’s got a serious reputation, a style all his own, and provided he can color inside the lines (at least mostly), a Tarantino Trek film could be fun. It could also be a hot mess, and the fact that a lot of people have run screaming from the news says a lot about how fractious and divisive his style and reputation are, at the current moment.

And, weirdly, that’s a good thing.

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Tom Baker and Douglas Adams Ride Again in “Shada,” The Lost Doctor Who Serial

“Shada” is a Doctor Who story that’s always been folded away in strange pockets of the show’s history (which, given the direction the plot ultimately takes, is oddly appropriate). Initially recorded as part of Season 17, which aired in 1979 and 1980, the serial was abandoned due to a labor strike at the BBC. Written by Douglas Adams and representing one of Tom Baker’s final appearances in the role, it sits between decades, at the edge of the Fourth Doctor’s tenure and just before the next regeneration. “Shada” has lingered in a state that’s been both well documented and frustratingly incomplete. Numerous attempts have been made to finish the story, including a Big Finish audio drama starring the Eighth Doctor, a novelization, and a video release with Baker explaining what happened in the scenes that were never shot. All of them have tried to close the circle that “Shada” opened decades ago. None have quite managed it as it was intended.

But now, at last, this story that has haunted Doctor Who in various forms for decades has been completed, using the surviving original cast (including Tom Baker), 1970s effects techniques and vintage equipment, and modern animation to complete the story. “Shada” was released as a digital download last week and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray towards the end of the year. It’s still as confounding and contradictory in completion as it ever was as in fragments—which, somehow, seems both intensely Gallifreyan and extremely appropriate.

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The Orville’s First Season Might Surprise You

I love the first 6-8 episodes of a TV show in its first season, because it always seems like the process is at its most transparent there. The first script order is when a show is figuring out what it is and how it’s going to work, actors and writers alike throwing things at the wall and gradually learning their way through the rhythms of their work. Some shows skip this step—Leverage in particular arrived fully formed and smiling as it quietly lifted the wallets of very bad men—but for most there’s a learning curve,

The Orville has followed that curve. What started out looking a lot like a weirdly elaborate and staggeringly unnecessary Star Trek: The Next Generation parody is rapidly becoming something interesting and new. That’s because The Orville hasn’t just spent this first run of episodes learning what it is, it’s spent it trying to balance two equally demanding requirements at the same: it has to be funny while also providing convincing drama.

[It doesn’t always succeed. But it’s getting better!]

Thor: Ragnarok is the Fun, Funny Marvel Movie We’ve Been Waiting For

“Fun” isn’t a word that’s spent a lot of time around the Thor movies thus far. Oh sure, the first two are both a good time; Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard are great as the human supporting cast, there are some rock solid Coulson scenes in the first one and they both sprint right along. But, for all the Shakespearean majesty of the characters and the romantic doom and gloom of Viking myth and dynastic intrigue, the first two Thor films still feel a little lightweight at times.

Thor: Ragnarok changes things up quite a bit, but the biggest change is its approach to humour, and wholehearted embrace of fun. This is possibly the funniest movie Marvel has ever produced—but it’s also shot through with a welcome dash of pragmatism, compassion, and some moments of genuine heart and depth.

[Note: this is a non-spoiler review, and does not discuss major plot points, although there may be spoilers in the comment section.]

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Unearthing the Perfect Horror Movies for Halloween

The best day of the year is upon us—oh, Horror Christmas, how I love you. There is no better time to watch horror movies than October, and also no better time to try some new ones. Horror cinema has been quietly producing brilliant gems for decades now and Halloween is a perfect time to unearth a few of them.

Oh, before we get to the unearthing—see Get Out if you haven’t already. It’s the best horror movie made so far this century. And just a great movie, period.

Now! Who’s up for a classic?

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Steal the Stars Will Literally Stop You In Your Tracks (In A Good Way!)

There’s a moment, quite early on, in Steal The Stars that completely brought me up short. Actually made me stop on the pavement (over to the side, obviously—I’m not a monster) and just think about what I’d heard. This happens with really good podcast fiction for me, and it’s something I watch for—the moment when a story’s implications hit you right between the eyes, where a dramatic twist is perfectly landed. An early episode of Tanis did this for me. Likewise The Black Tapes and The Magnus Archives. It happens in my day job at Pseudopod regularly, too.

But Steal The Stars is the first time in a long time a full cast audio drama has achieved this effect. And it managed to do so not with any of the vast revelations at the heart of the story, but with a pair of character beats.

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Here’s Why Star Trek Still Has the Best Theme Songs and Credit Sequences in All of SciFi Television

Star Trek: Discovery finally launched this week and that means there are two things making me very happy. The first is that we have a new Star Trek show that’s doing new things in a very Star Trek way. The second is we get a new credits sequence.

I am an easy mark for a good credits sequence. “Good” doesn’t necessarily mean long, either—Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s exuberant twenty-second sprint tells you everything you need to know, while (in the UK, at least) Law and Order’s Rob Dougan-scored doom grimly trudges toward the same end. Then there’s the dozens of different versions of the Doctor Who theme, not the least of which is the Twelfth Doctor’s epic rock guitar take on his own theme music. Much like the Nerf Herder intro to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s a perfect summation of the show, and (also like the Buffy theme) it’s a strong contender for best TV theme music, and credit sequence, ever.

[But Star Trek is the all-time champion.]