Circle Calls Our Conscience To a Vote [Certified Forgotten]

Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione’s 2015 film Circle opens in a dark room.  Fifty people are waking up, confused and disorientated. They don’t know why they’re here or what’s going on. They’re standing arranged in concentric circles around a black dome with red lights. Then there’s a flash, and they start dying. 

Every two minutes, one of them is killed. It can be from a beam of light that comes from the dome. It can be if someone tries to leave, stepping outside the small red circle under their feet. But every two minutes, someone dies. The early parts of Circle are nervous chaos, as the group’s attempts to figure out what the hell is going on are interrupted by another death. They talk about what they remember from before they woke up here. They discuss if there are any connections between the people in the room. They theorize about how they might buy time. But every two minutes, flash, another body drops. 

I wrote about Circle, talky sci-fi and cynicism for Certified Forgotten! Read it here.

Revisiting Steven Spielberg’s Undersung Masterpiece, Catch Me If You Can [Film Daze]

Catch Me If You Can is a well-loved but still underappreciated film: the kind of movie that, were it made by almost anyone else, would be rightfully thought of as their masterpiece. But it was made by Steven Spielberg, who has made so many masterpieces that Catch Me If You Can gets lost in the shuffle. But at almost two decades’ distance, it stands out as a shining bright spot of the latter part of Spielberg’s career. It is one of the films that made me fall in love with cinema.

It’s one of the films that I watched as a kid that really blew up what I thought films could be and do. I have watched it so many times, and I’m always taken off-guard by how extraordinarily well-made it is: impeccably structured, bursting with extraordinary performances, and so goddamn exciting. Just as thrilling as the first time, every time. 

I wrote about Catch Me If You Can for Film Daze. Read it here.

How Christopher Landon Is Reinventing The Slasher Movie [Fangoria]

Slasher movies occupy an unusual position within horror, and within film in general. As a genre, its scope is extremely narrow, yet its formula is endlessly replicable: somebody stabs a bunch of teenagers, culminating in a face-off between the killer and the final girl. Laurie Strode fended off Michael Myers and launched a thousand imitators.

The slasher movie’s peak, both creatively and in popularity, is also when it was most reviled critically. In the 1970s and 1980s, slasher movies were considered the bottom of the barrel, barely inching out pornography in artistic merit (and second only to pornography in VHS rentals). Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were so disgusted by the original Friday the 13th that they told their viewers to write letters of complaint to its producers and star Betsy Palmer. It’s only in the subsequent decades that slashers have been taken seriously enough to recognize that great slasher movies are great movies, period. Yet simultaneously, the genre has gone into decline.

I wrote about Christopher Landon’s recent run of slasher movies, Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U and Freaky, for Fangoria! (Fangoria!!!) You can read it here.

God Help Bobby and Helen: Panic in Needle Park at 50 [Crooked Marquee]

“God help Bobby and Helen,” reads the original poster. “They’re in love in Needle Park.” Helen (Kitty Winn) leans on Bobby (Al Pacino, in his first starring role), arm around his shoulder and eyes downcast; Bobby kisses her cheek. It’s not clear from the still image of the poster if Helen is hanging onto him carefree and in love – a candid shot in motion as she laughs and moves – or if she’s out of it and can barely stand. The film itself answers: both. 

I wrote about The Panic in Needle Park on Crooked Marquee for its fiftieth anniversary. Read it here!

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows Transcends the Genre It Pioneered [Fanbyte]

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows is one of the best documentaries about anything ever. It follows Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s last year in the WWF in 1997, as the promotion battles Ted Turner’s WCW in the ratings and the rise of antiheroes makes Hart’s status as wrestling’s number one good guy precarious. Like so many of my favorite documentaries, Wrestling with Shadows is about something narrow—vividly capturing a specific, strange moment in the history of professional wrestling—in a way that grasps towards the universal, telling a moving human story. Like so many of my favourite documentaries, I can’t believe how much the filmmakers totally lucked out in being there to capture this story. Yet Wrestling with Shadows tends to get slotted into the category “wrestling documentary” as a kind of ghetto. The assumption by wrestling fandom and the general public alike that it could only appeal to existing wrestling fans is self-fulfilling: Only wrestling fans end up watching it, proving that it could only appeal to existing wrestling fans.

I wrote about the amazing documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows for Fanbyte! Read it here.

A Woman Waging War: Ms .45 at 40 [Crooked Marquee]

Abel Ferrera’s directorial career has spanned grindhouse to arthouse, making his debut with a hardcore porn film – 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976) – and ending up, four decades later, the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The best of his films encompass both ends of the spectrum simultaneously, upending the very idea of each as the other’s opposite: grimy exploitation and transcendent beauty, all at once. 

I wrote about rape-revenge classic Ms .45‘s fortieth anniversary for Crooked Marquee! Read it here.

The Noirs of Melville [Current Affairs]

Film noir is an elusive, amorphous thing, something you recognise when you see it but is incredibly difficult to pin down. There are things you can point to that you expect from film noir—plots from hardboiled crime fiction, cinematography from German Expressionism, private eyes, and femme fatales—but nothing firm. 

Paul Schrader wrote that film noir is defined by its tone—a fatalistic, hopeless one—but even that is slightly too specific. More than a genre, a style or a tone, noir is a vibe: something’s film noir if it feels like it is, and any definition is an attempt to backfill a reasoning. When classic films noirs were being made in Hollywood, the industry wasn’t consciously making film noir, the way people consciously made westerns—as James Naremore outlines in More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, the idea was only defined retrospectively. The dozens of tropes, stock characters, and shooting styles that make up film noir don’t have a standard arrangement, or even an obvious connection to one another, but through the act of repetition, they collectively acquired new meaning. Film noir is fall guys, cynical detectives, down-and-out boxers, and struggling writers; it’s shadows cast from Venetian blinds, rain on a city night, low angle shots and first-person voiceover narration; it’s Humphrey Bogart looking as cool as possible while smoking a cigarette.

I wrote an essay for Current Affairs about one of my top two artists who fought in the French Resistance, Jean-Pierre Melville, and film noir! You can subscribe to read it here, or buy a copy of the issue here.


UPDATE: You can now read this piece online here!

Hollywood, the Bush Years, and America’s Memory Hole [Current Affairs]

Few films have tried to interpret the Bush era, but the ones that have are worth examining in detail. W.Vice, and The Report are some of the few major films about the Bush administration that Hollywood has produced, and despite their different approaches to history, each speaks to an important truth: to the personal moral character of George Bush; to the moral character of Republican Party in the decades before Donald Trump; and to why, exactly, America chooses to forget. 

I wrote about W., Vice, and The Report for Current Affairs. You can read it here!

You should watch No More Jockeys [Digital Spy]

Originally invented by Mark Watson and Tim Key in 2001, No More Jockeys had a brief life on the BBC Comedy website in 2009 as a spin-off from Horne, Key and Watson’s panel show We Need Answers. But it was given new life earlier this year when the guys started filming episodes over video call during lockdown.

I wrote about the brilliant, wonderful, delightful No More Jockeys for Digital Spy. You can read it here!