Not The Fox News: The Spielberg/Netflix War

 

So, let’s talk about movies. Specifically, let’s talk about the mildly confusing, and somewhat upsetting, news that Steven Spielberg is going to war with Netflix. Spielberg, word is, will lobby the Motion Picture Academy to change the rules covering the theatrical eligibility period for the Oscars. This is apparently in response to Netflix’s growing success at the awards. Spielberg is on record as saying he feels Netflix content is better suited to the Emmys because of how it’s delivered and this seems to be the next escalation of that belief. Like I say, it’s kind of a downer. Like discovering that the cool Uncle who leant you all those great movies thinks the internet is a fad and insists on calling it ‘electronic mail.’ I wanted to find out more about this, especially as the LOUD WORDS!/Content ratio on this story has been way off. Here’s what I dug up.

Spielberg’s point of view first off. He’s a passionate advocate for the movie theater experience. So much so he feels that if a movie isn’t designed to be seen in a theater, it’s not really a movie, hence the TV movie/Netflix/Emmy thing. That informs his argument now, which is that Netflix is essentially gaming or breaking the system by putting Oscar contenders in theaters for minimum runs to ensure their eligibility. And the thing is, he’s right and also wrong. Here’s why.

He’s right because Netflix is playing the system, in the exact way every distributor does but with vast amounts more financial muscle. That breaks down into two sub issues. The first is Netflix movies taking up space other films would notionally have. The second is the sense of Netflix being the millennials at the gate; kicking the doors in, squatting in a movie screen for a week and showing up to the Oscar ceremony in a hoodie. The only one of those problems which actually needs attention paid to it is the first and the rumored proposal would certainly do… something. Apparently, the plan is to extend the minimum eligibility requirement to a month in theaters. It’s not actually going to do anything substantial, because Netflix paid $100 million for another year of streaming Friends the same way you pay for a Freddo. But it’ll cost them money and that’s a line in the sand. Even if a big red N shaped tank is going to roll straight over it.  As for the millennials at the gate, honestly, my one response is ‘Good.’ And to see if there’s a quick release switch.

Spielberg’s right about the theatrical experience too. I love the movies, even taking the eternal gamble of ‘Will the audience be terrible?’ into account. When I was a kid growing up on a tiny rock it was a magical wall that transported me to other places. When I was an adult who hated very nearly everything in his life it was an escape. Now, in my ongoing war against becoming a living deadline homunculus, it’s two hours off from my head. The movie theater is my church. It’s where my hurt gets healed. And the only reason I can manage that is the theater is ten minutes away on foot and costs five pounds a ticket. A lot of people aren’t as lucky. Spielberg doesn’t seem to be able to see past his privilege in that regard, and that’s the first place he’s wrong.

Privilege or idealism also seem to be at the heart of his second mistake. The idea of Netflix movies taking up space that ‘proper’ films deserve more on screens and at awards is a willful refusal to both acknowledge the minimal times they spend in theaters and to see how distribution actually works now. The movie industry, like every industry in this entirely-too-late-capitalist hellscape we drag ourselves over is very VERY broken and distribution is a perfect example of that. Revenues shrink, blockbusters turn a profit so that’s all theaters show and smaller movies get squeezed out long before Netflix drops its designated golden child for the year into a half dozen locations for a week.  In those instances, it seems likely the changes Spielberg is proposing could damage the very movies he’d view as ‘deserving’ those slots more.

But while I don’t agree with it, I can see how, from Spielberg’s point of view, that looks profoundly unfair. Movies not designed for theaters taking up space in theaters. Taking spaces that other voices need and deserve more. Plus, this is just the beginning and if Netflix isn’t curtailed here, how far will it go? It’s a compelling mindset and one that a friend and colleague perfectly summed up by describing Netflix as a Super PAC. Their advertising spend for Roma was massive, possibly unlawful and makes his point. Money talks. Or in this case, screens.

On the plus side, the millennials may be at the gates, but they’ve brought some really cool movies with them. Netflix often enables risky productions to find a home and through that home some serious recognition. Ava DuVernay is a vocal advocate for them and it’s impossible to argue with her points. In particular that the only picture she’s directed that ever received wide international distribution was 13th, and it got that release through Netflix.  She’s not alone either, and the platform has done a great job of baking diversity in at a programming and creative level in projects ranging from Sense8 to 3% and last month’s Oscar winner, Roma. Which, as director Alfonso Cuaron pointed out, would have struggled to find a home anywhere else.

The fact those movies are available at all is a game changer. The fact they’re available in your home is another and the closed captioning that’s available on them is a third. The existence of streaming services does an undeniably vast amount for accessibility in the exact way most theaters simply can’t. Or to put it another way, the theatrical experience loses it’s shine when only one screening has closed captions or is autism friendly. Even outside those concerns, parents have access to streaming libraries and a volume control meaning they can still interact with movies without getting a sitter. And a parking space. And tickets. Time and again it comes down to money, both personal and corporate. Corporate because Spielberg, with some justification, looks at Netflix as paying to play. Personal because sitter, transport and ticket are all costs that renders Spielberg’s beloved theaters from an affordable necessity to an occasional luxury for most of us.

But, to quote Billy Crudup in the best Mission: Impossible movie, it’s complicated. Because while this plays more than a little like cloud shouting on Spielberg’s part, Netflix are far from the wounded innocents they’re being played as here by any means.

First off, they did were a massive part of the death of the DVD rental market. On the one hand, industries evolve. On the other, as a former retail worker myself, that doesn’t make redundancy suck any less. Especially as Netflix’s own DVD rental service is, somehow, still going.

Then there’s the odd way they pay for movies. Or rather, when they pay for movies. Syndication and payment splits between initial costs and box office take are commonplace everywhere but Netflix. Instead of paying up front and then after the fact, they pay more than most up front. The upside to this is if your movie doesn’t perform you’ve still got a payday. The downside is that if your movie performs brilliantly, you’ve…got the same payday. It’s less of a gamble but also less of a jackpot. It’s also worth noting there’s repeated anecdotal evidence that the residuals actors and crew get from Netflix are very, very low. Like freelancer journalist level low.

Not to mention the organizations’ weirdly cagey and almost certainly gamed ratings. And the counter-intuitive gap between Daredevil’s ratings and the decision to cancel itAnd the intimidatingly brilliant figures BirdBox figures were so great people were openly skeptical. Remember, Netflix is a venture capital backed company. That means it’s in their interests to look more valuable than they are. It also means, sometime soon, the people who put the initial money up will want a return and if that return isn’t high enough, things are going to go badly. Because in the end, with venture capital backers, they always do.  As a mildly chilling side note to this, Netflix paid very close attention to what choices people made through Bandersnatch and they aren’t saying how long they’re holding onto the data or why.  All of which means even if Netflix isn’t the bad guy, and on at least two fronts it absolutely is, it certainly understands a lot of the bad guy’s viewpoints and feels we should hear him out.

So, we opened this piece with: Cool Uncle Fights The Internet which is a headline no one wants to read. Here’s what it looks like now:

Cool Uncle Fights What He Thinks Is The Good Fight For The Wrong Reasons Against Morally Bankrupt But Creatively Game Changing Mega-Corporation

It’s not punchy but it’s way more accurate. Discriminating against ‘TV movies’ doesn’t hold weight anymore and hasn’t for this entire century. Netflix isn’t going anywhere even if the Academy shuts it out of the Oscars. More importantly, for Spielberg to focus on this is inherently conservative and backward facing at the exact time when the #metoo and 4% Challenge movements could do so much more with someone like him in their corner. Hell even if he didn’t want to throw his power behind them, the best way to save the theatrical experience he loves so much is to help change the economic model behind movie theaters to reflect the changing way people watch films. Build the future, don’t defend the past. To be clear, I think the fact he wants to protect movie theaters is admirable. But he’s in the wrong field, he’s yelling at the wrong people and he’s facing the wrong way.

Then there’s Netflix. The simple fact they’re a global entertainment mega-corporation should make them basically impossible to back or trust but we live in a world of occasionally slumbering Corporate Kaiju whose tectonic movements affect us like the weather and offer us about the same control so Cultural Stockholm Syndrome is very much a thing. I love a lot of what they do. I hate a lot of how they go about doing it and perhaps if this fight indirectly makes them more honest, that would be a good thing. But I can’t help feeling there are better, more necessary fights for everyone involved. And the time to have them is long overdue.

 

Sources:

IndieWire

Steven Spielberg: The Greatest Contribution a Director Can Make Is the Theatrical Experience

The Spielberg vs. Netflix Battle Could Mean Collateral Damage for Indies at the Oscars

Netflix Fires Back After Academy Backlash and Steven Spielberg’s Push for Oscars Rule Change

Variety

‘Bird Box’ Ratings: Nielsen Backs Up Netflix’s Claims That It’s a Big Hit

Alfonso Cuaron Says ‘Roma’ Is Better in Theaters

Netflix Responds to Steven Spielberg’s Push to Bar It From Oscars

Spielberg to Voice Concerns Over Netflix Oscar Competition at Academy Meeting

Industry Debates Theatrical Distribution vs. Netflix Amid Academy Rule Change Speculation

 

Wikipedia

Freddo the Frog

Political Action Committee

#metoo

 

Others

ASI Conferences

This Is What Steven Spielberg Is Saying About Netflix And The Oscars

Deadline

Den of Geek

EW

 

Forbes

No Film School

The Verge

ScreenRant

 

Not The Fox News: Batfleck No More

Just under six years ago, I wrote this.

Just under ten hours ago, it was confirmed that the next Batman movie, The Batman, will arrive in 2021 and Ben Affleck will not be the visible chin in the suit.

What a weird six years, that’s somehow only produced three movies he’s actually played the role in, it’s been. I stand by my original column too; Affleck was an excellent choice for the role and one that the studio pretty clearly had absolutely no idea what to do with from the jump off. He was writing, directing and starring in the Batman movie. Then he was starring and writing. Then he was just starring. Now he’s going to be in the audience. In the interim, he turned in a good performance in a film full of occasional brilliance and frequent mystifying stumbles, a visibly weary and yet still weirdly charming turn in a film broken in two by numerous problems at every level and rode on a shiny purple Lamborghini. He deserved better, and after a while, you could kind of see him realizing that. And so did we.

So what now? Or rather who now?

Well, Matt Reeves is a safe pair of hands, that’s a given. I mean, sure, everyone has an Under Siege 2: Dark Territory somewhere but look past that and you’ve got Cloverfield, which is a legit epochal piece of cinema. Hate found footage movies all you want but Cloverfield is never less than visually impressive and changed the grammar of blockbusters in general and monster movies in particular. From there Reeves directed the critically acclaimed remake of Let The Right One In and made the revamped Planet of the Apes trilogy not only his own but a strikingly intelligent, modern and bleak retelling of what could have so easily been a goofy cash in. And he wrote all of them too. Behind the camera is just fine, no worries there.

But in front of the camera, there’s an opportunity. An opportunity to break accepted wisdom and actually do something genuinely new and revolutionary with the character. We know Reeves wants to cast a young Bruce and that the movie is planned as an actual detective story with a large rogue’s gallery as opposed to the yelling nocturnal punch fest that so many other Batman movies end up as.

So here’s how you do it. Or rather, how I’d do it.

David Mazouz

The kid has held Gotham, a series of 42 minute explosions, together for five years. He’s literally grown into the role, on screen and has the exact combination of presence, compassion, gravitas and literal batsarse crazy eyes to sell it. Plus you get instant good will from the Gotham crowd, you reward Mazouz for carrying that show on his back for five years and if we’re really lucky? The greatest version of Alfred Pennyworth ever committed to screen comes with him. ‘Ave iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!

Michael B. Jordan

Oh you know this makes sense. Jordan is a fiercely intelligent performer and uses that intelligence in the service of his roles. He’s arguably the lynchpin of Black Panther and his Shakespearean Killmonger is, hands down, the best villain the Marvel movies have had to date. Imagine that intelligence, that focus, put to cleaning up Gotham City.

Then there’s the physical dimension. Jordan’s extraordinary work in the Creed movies shows he’s ridiculously physically capable too. Plus he’s a legit geek so there’s instant good will from the hard to win over members of the audience and his best performances sit absolutely in the sweet spot Reeves seems to want; a young, driven, slightly impulsive Bruce completely focused on his work but perhaps over-extending himself. It’s Creed in a cowl, and Jordan knows that territory very, very well.

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 16: Oscar Isaac attends the European Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)

Oscar Isaac

Just let me have this one. I know the age gap probably isn’t big enough and Isaac’s blockbuster dance card is going to be good and full for the next few years anyway. But very few people could be Bruce Wayne better than him. Isaac’s sophisticated without being sleazy, intense without being goggle eyed crazy pants and he can do grounded, mournful decency and swashbuckling charm with equal ease. Often in the same scene. I accept he’s probably out of the range but if we can’t get him as Batman, then surely he’s a Commissioner Gordon in waiting.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 05: Colin Morgan attends the UK Premiere of “Testament of Youth” at Empire Leicester Square on January 5, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Colin Morgan

Morgan’s two best known performances in the UK are as Merlin in Merlin and Leo in Humans. The two roles are a textbook demonstration of his range and why he’d be a good fit for the cowl. Morgan can do seething intensity, emotional damage and comedic awkwardness effortlessly and all of them with a guiding intelligence. Bruce Wayne as a player of games, as a mask worn by Batman is something Morgan could absolutely ace. Plus he looks good in a tux so there’s that.

 

There’s the temptation to complicate matters of course. To fold in other members of the Bat family, to discuss the correct Robin for the occasion that sort of thing. There’s also the compulsory requirement to point out that Batman is arguably one of the most over-exposed characters to hang a movie off if you’re looking to break new ground. He’s a guilt ridden billionaire trauma victim who sublimates his rage and guilt by punching criminals. That’s slightly facetious sure but it’s also a good chunk of the character and I worry that a younger Bruce would mean we’d have to sit through the second most overplayed origin story in comics for the umpteenth time.

That being said, there are interesting things to still do with Batman and a raft of great Bat characters that are screaming out for a movie of their own. The Reeves movie won’t be that, but it is a new start and that’s something the DCEU has begun to see real success with. Wonder Woman was great. Aquaman, book torturing idiot dude bro lead aside, was great. Shazam looks big fun and if it is it’ll triangulate the idea that DC movies work best when they work alone. So bring on the new Bat, whoever he may be. Batfleck’s era is gone, and that’s for the best for everyone, including him. Let’s see who picks up the cowl next and if their luck is any better. It certainly deserves to be.

Not The Fox News: The Good News In The Bad News

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Markus Schreiber/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6975532f)
SJ Clarkson Director SJ Clarkson attends a photo-call for the movie Toast at the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin on
Germany Berlinale, Berlin, Germany

SJ Clarkson is about to have a very good year. You don’t know their name, odds are but believe me you’ll have seen some of Clarkson’s work. She’s directed for everything from Life on Mars to The Defenders and is one of the never ending stream of excellent female directors who drive the US TV drama industry along. Clarkson’s work, most notably on the first two episodes of Jessica Jones, is known for being clean, character-centric and elegant. She’s excellent and when it was announced last year she’d be helming Star Trek 4 it was a pleasure to see her get the slot, and to see the franchise’s directorial blinkers finally be lifted It was also confidently announced that Chris Hemsworth would be returning as Kirk’s dad. Most people instantly assumed it was time for the Mirror universe but I figured time travel and some sort of Quantum Leap situation.

Regardless it’s a moot point now as Pine and Hemsworth were caught up in a contract dispute with the studio that ended with them leaving the table. Now, Clarkson has left the project to direct the pilot of the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel and serve as executive producer for the series. Star Trek 4 appears to have been indefinitely shelved as a result.

And that’s brilliant news, for basically everyone, here’s why.

Clarkson first off. I wasn’t kidding about the legions of female directors keeping US TV afloat, there are dozens of them and they’re all brilliant and underappreciated and underpaid. Sandra Oh’s gag at the Golden Globes this year about ‘FIRST MAN!’ being the default choice for directors and a movie about Neil Armstrong is funny, and sad, because its true. So any time someone makes it over the fence, as Clarkson has done here, I’m delighted. GoT: 90210  or whatever the Hell it’s going to be called is the definition of a prestige gig and there must be a ton of confidence in her for her to be put in place. Deservedly so too.

Then there’s Game of Thrones itself. The world’s angriest Ren Fair is the largest TV show on the planet by a considerable margin and, now it has finally overtaken the books, has been having visibly more fun season by season. However, it’s also got a justifiably shitty reputation for how it deals with female staff. And characters for that matter. This is a great breakdown of the show’s massive fondness for ladymurder season by season but weirdly the horrific statistic isn’t the big number, it’s the small one. In the entirety of its run the show has had 3 women on the writing and directing staff.

3.

In 73 episodes.

With none either writing or directing for the final season.

On its own, that’s a hilariously shitty metric. Placed against the show’s cheerful willingness to use rape the way some people use punctuation marks, it’s disgusting. The largest show on Earth has employed three whole entire women in its biggest roles. That’s an unforgivable failure, if absolutely nothing else, of leading by example. But it does give you a starting position to row back from and, seven YEARS LATE, that’s exactly what the production office is starting to do by hiring Clarkson.

(As an aside, Mo Ryan should be your go to for this sort of thing on Twitter. One of the best entertainment journalists on the planet.)

But what of Star Trek? Well, it’s good news for that too.

The Kelvinverse movies get a lot of hate and the vast majority of it is undeserved. The original Star Trek is great, everything in Into Darkness that isn’t Khan being whitewashed is fun and Beyond is a legitimate love letter to the franchise. In fact, Beyond is a perfect capstone for these movies for all sorts of reasons. Also THIS IS STILL THE BEST THING. It gives Kirk the test he’s always needed and ties the present of this universe to the past it shares with the core timeline. It also sets up an ending that’s elegant, could absolutely stand a sequel or two but is in no way incomplete without them. And can stand toe to toe with the ending of The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home, where they get the 1701-A and the music swells and I become a human avatar of ugly crying.

But most importantly, bringing the Kelvinverse into land here salutes the cast members who are no longer with us. Don’t get me wrong, part of me would love to see a fourth movie with Jaylah sitting next to Sulu. But the rest of me is quite happy with that role being filled by Anton Yelchin’s instantly likable take on Chekov, off-screen and quietly, enthusiastically immortal.

Besides, Trek’s far more at home on bookshelves and the small screen now.  The astonishing work consistently being done by novelists like James Swallow and Doctor Una McCorrmack has continued to expand the core timeline. Meanwhile, the launch of Discovery last year, the imminent second season as well as the new Picard show and recently announced pair of animated series all speak to a new found dedication to Trek on TV.

Tellingly, the existence of The Orville does the same thing.  While the show is still very Seth MacFarlane’s bad days on its bad days, the rest of it is a fascinating look at established Trek tropes through new lenses. It is to Star Trek what Scrubs is to ER, a profoundly affectionate and respectful riff playing all the right notes, just in a different order. That’s why the the people who cite it as the ‘true Star Trek’ because it doesn’t let politics get in the way mystify me so much. Not just because they’ve presumably never seen Star Trek before but perhapsnot The Orville either. Social issues are at the core of both of them. It’s just sometimes on The Orville, there’s a punchline as well. Regardless, it’s existence and success speaks to the strength of Star Trek as a small screen concept, whether it’s branded as Star Trek or not.

So like I say, this is one of those rare occasions where a project falling through is good news. Clarkson has a great new job, Game of Thrones gets to take the NO GURLS ALOUD notice off the front door of the production office and the Kelvinverse gets the ending it deserves. Plus Trek as a concept gets to grow in new ways. Seek out new life and new civilizations. Perhaps even, boldly go?

Seriously though this is great news all round. Congratulations everyone. Now, who’s working on that Chief Miles O’Brien show? Take your time, I’ll wait. And turn up the beats and the shouting, yeah?

 

When Alasdair Stuart is not hosting PseudoPod and Escape Pod, or running Escape Artists Inc., he’s professionally enthusiastic about genre fiction on the Internet at places like Tor.com, Barnes & Noble, The Guardian, Uncanny Magazine, SciFi Now and MyMBuzz. He’s an ENie-nominated tabletop RPG writer for his work on Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space. His other RPG writing includes Star Trek, The Laundry Files, Primeval, Victoriana, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, N.E.W. and Chill, meaning he’s got a playbook for any variety of invasion you can name.  He also makes ketchup sometimes and can bake the HELL out of focaccia. Read about his ongoing culinary adventures, as well as a whole lot of pop culture enthusiasm in his weekly newsletter, The Full Lid, published every Friday around 5pm.

He lives in the UK with the love of his life and their ever expanding herd of microphones. Follow him on Twitter as @AlasdairStuart, or at his blog, The Man of Words.

Not The Fox News: The Doctor Is In

Like my friend Saxon says, always start with a song.

John Lydon there, a few years out from being Johnny Rotten and a few years before splitting his time being a mouthpiece for Big Dairy and deciding Brexit was punk rock. It’s one of his best pieces of non Sex Pistols work, all righteous late ’80s piss and vinegar. Compelling argument too, because anger is an energy,  he’s right. If you ever want to gorilla up and over a problem, all you really have to do is get good and mad at it. ‘DRIVE OVER!’ As my tiny Welsh Rugby coach used to say, encouraging 500 pounds of adolescent scrum to do their best impression of a tank.

Hello Mr McGregor, by the way, if you’re reading.

Anger tends to power Difficult Men in fiction too. House? Pissed. Sherlock Holmes? Bloody furious. The Doctor? Often mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore. Peter Capaldi’s epochal run as the 12th Doctor was driven, at least in its first year, by the Doctor’s barely contained rage at everything he knew, could sense and that was not happening fast enough. That rich vein of tetchy has run through most of the previous incarnations too, always appearing in different ways. 11’s baby-faced old man persona, 6’s fundamental inability to not shout, 4’s occasional mercurial explosions of rage. 9’s tormented, embittered survivor’s guilt that often threatened to tear him and anyone near him in half as he grinned as widely as he could to keep from screaming. It’s why ‘Just this once, EVERYBODY LIVES!’ Still makes you cry a full decade and a bit after transmission. It’s the feral desperate joy of a man who wants to save everyone who, just once, can. But the thing none of these Difficult Men, or to use the correct trope, Insufferable Geniuses know is that Anger is An energy, not the only energy. And based on her first appearances, the 13th Doctor has found and is building herself around something else; kindness.

To deal with the obvious comment head on, I don’t think this has anything to do with her gender.
Anger isn’t something dependent on gender and never has been. Rather, I think 13’s approach to
kindness uses the decades of Insufferable Genius that preceded her as a foundation and the environment she’s dropped into as building material to create something as new as it is necessary.

Peter Capaldi’s 12 is, at the very least, my second favorite Doctor of all time so I’m not bagging on him in the slightest. But, especially in that first year, 12 was defined by his rage. ‘Am I a good man?’ Remained the driving question throughout his run and resurfaced when he flat out refused to regenerate at the end of his time. Anger at the world, at the injustice he’d seen, at the fact there were still Things To Do drove the gloriously disreputable old punk right up until his final moments when he was finally allowed not only peace but to realize that someone other than him was allowed to shoulder some of the burden. I was basically a wreck for the entire back 20 minutes of Twice Upon A Time (The Lethbridge-Stewart reveal? Not enough tissues in the world) but those final moments, 12’s curtain call, were what really got me. Especially what seemed to be a good part of the mission statement for 13:

‘Laugh hard. Run fast. Be Kind.’

It’s a moment made all the more powerful in retrospect. 12, finally at peace with himself and his
end, taking his final bow and throwing a typically dignified plea out into the world as he goes. One his successor picks up in her first three seconds of life, laughing at the sheer joy of having arrived, of having so much to do and so much time to do it. The torch being passed not reluctantly but with trust. The torch being picked up not out of obligation but choice.

And 13 is unfailingly, disarmingly kind. She’s instinctively the Doctor from the first second we see
her. Talking fast, solving a problem, collecting information. She knows who she is before she can
remember who she is. She’s also painfully aware of the toll events take on the people around her
in a way almost no Doctor has ever been before. The Tenth Doctor’s retrain of ‘I’m sorry, I’m so
sorry’ was, at times, performative. Another excuse to rails against the universe so vast
and malicious that even the Lonely God couldn’t save everyone.

13 has no such front. Or indeed, any at all. She apologizes when things go wrong, compliments her friends (And they’re her friends now, not her companions. That’s important too) for dealing with their situation and is engaged with everyone, not just everything. 13 builds the suit of herself from her environment. Her accent, her friends, her Sonic Screwdriver, her costume. All of it comes not from some conveniently hand waved alien box but from a northern town on a crappy night. I actually applauded at her costume coming from a charity shop because its such a perfect choice. A Doctor with no time, or resources, for the sartorial fripperies of her predecessors, rolling her sleeves up (Literally!) and getting it done. Brilliant. A Sonic Screwdriver made out of Sheffield steel and stolen bits of a Hershey’s Kiss from space. Even more brilliant. The iconic superhero elements of the Doctor stripped away to reveal the same person they’ve always been; never cruel or cowardly. Here to help. Hates empty pockets.

And behind all of it, kindness. Whitaker has the exact steel the Doctor requires and facing down
Tim Shaw the tooth-faced pound shop Predator (And I mean that as a compliment) on a tower
crane is a Hell of a first ‘I’m the DOCTOR’ moment. But where she lives and breathes in the role is
in her compassion. The offhand reference to how ‘everyone is capable of the most incredible
change’. The fact that she quietly positions Ryan, whose fault this indirectly is, so that he can be
the one to bring the situation to an end. The fact too that she watches him try and ride his bike and doesn’t intervene. This incarnation of the Doctor is kind but not smothering, compassionate but respectful. She’s here to help, she isn’t here to do it for us and that’s a distinction the show has rarely, if ever attempted before.

It’s also one that implies a welcome fallibility. The Doctor’s decision to leave her friends to heal is
one again borne of kindness. But fate, as we see in the final moments of this episode, has other
plans for 13 and her odd, fractious survivor’s club. Yazmin, so determined to prove herself. Ryan,
refusing to break under the pressure of his dyspraxia and working to not be defined by it. Graham, united with Ryan in grief if not love. Survivors all, none of them happy about it and all of them about to take their first steps into a world that will show them just how much bigger they all are on the inside. And do so not as a punishment, but as a kindness.

Anger is an energy. Right now it’s a mandatory one. I’m writing this on the morning an IPCC report is published, that will almost certainly be ignored, which says we have 12 years to correct or curb climate change before it begins having disastrous, Roland Emmerich-ian effects. I’m writing this in a country which in six months will merrily walk off an economic and cultural cliff because rich white sociopaths turned the very people they exploit the most into a weapon that will harm us all. I’m writing this on the other side of the Atlantic from a country I love whose President’s behavior degrades by the hour, which has just railroaded a probable sexual predator onto the highest court in the land and which looks dead set on rolling the clock back to the 1950s in every single one of the worst ways. Anger is an energy, a mandatory one.

But not the only one.

If anger is a weapon then kindness is a tool and Doctor Who has returned to place that tool in everyone’s hands where it fits so well we almost forgot we could wield it. Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Make your own future and bring people along with you when you go. That’s what this Doctor would do. Now, let’s get a shift on.

Not The Fox News: Star Trek is Punk Rock

There are two ways to view the news that Alex Kurtzman is not only going to be the showrunner for the remainder of Discovery season 2 but is spearheading the development of a fleet of other Star Trek shows. The first is to worry about the brand, nod grimly towards some of Kurtzman’s previous projects and wander off muttering about how Star Trek isn’t the same anymore.

The second is to kick a hole in the speakers, pull the plug and pogo off stage. Because, as I realized earlier today, Star Trek is and always shall be punk rock.

First off, yes Kurtzman has some ropey projects on his CV. The vast majority of people do. Not everyone has the massive success of the original Kelvinverse Trek movie, Fringe (Especially its early seasons) and the best Mission: Impossible movie on their record. Kurtzman does. And while there’s bad stuff on there as well, I’m remaining belligerently hopeful. Not only because the showrunners he’s succeeding were reportedly verbally abusive to their writers (Yell at your writers and they will eviscerate you in fiction forever) but because Kurtzman’s new deal, as reported by variety, is taking Trek the exact place it should go; where it’s never gone before.

The word is that his slate currently looks like this:

  • A confidential mini-series.
  • An animated series.
  • A mini-series focusing on Khan. Or perhaps KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!
  • A Starfleet Academy show run by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, currently in charge of the excellent Marvel series Runaways.

How about we start with the one giving everyone palpitations. The Starfleet Academy show is a great idea that arrived a couple of decades early. The original idea was to create a second tent pole franchise that would be

  1. Cheaper

and

  1. B) Logistically far easier than bringing the original cast back together.

It’s a great idea in principle but at the time it played too much like a back door replacement and was nixed. The brilliant thing about the idea is that it works far better as a TV show than it would as a movie. Plus Schwartz and Savage have shown, with Runaways, they’re exceptionally good at exploring the lives of gifted, difficult, weird young people and that describes pretty much every Starfleet Academy class you’d care to name.

This show has the potential to be the heart of the new Star Trek TV universe because cadets are the heart of Starfleet itself. Yes, it’s a military organization, a Navy that works in X, Y and Z axes but it’s also a fundamentally altruistic, compassionate, curious organization. Starfleet exists to explore the universe, make everyone’s lives better, meet new cultures and learn from them. That’s a powerful motif at the best of times and it’s no accident Discovery’s best episodes centred this concept. It’s also an immensely powerful, hopeful platform to tell stories from. Especially now and especially with a young, presumably multi-national and multi-species cast.

Then there’s that mini-series, whose plot may not be as confidential as anyone thought. Io9 are reporting that Sir Patrick Stewart is in talks to star in what would be the first Next Generation sequel since Nemesis. That’s going to make a massively vocal fan base immensely happy, and also put to rest one of the longest standing fan conversations; What happened after Next Generation?

Better still, it gives the shows a chance to break undeniable stylistic new ground in a more permissive environment than Discovery did. A mini-series with a beginning, a middle and an end? Trek as event TV? That’s so perfect I’m stunned it’s ever been done before. And better still, to do so with Captain Picard?! That’s like Christmas coming early, having brilliant diction and knowing Shakespeare.

It’s interesting too that there are plenty of gaps to fill in the post-Next Generation time period as well as amazing stories that already exist there. Star Trek‘s tie in novels have done an astonishing job of continuing the narratives set up in the various time periods, introducing new characters and new ships, crossing over with massive success and keeping the franchise very much alive and kicking. Likewise, Star Trek: Online does an excellent job of continuing the timeline in a new era, three decades upstream. All these stories, and their creators, deserve your time and the biggest challenge these new TV series may face is threading the needle between all the various islands of established stories.

Either way, there’s lots of opportunity for cameos from familiar faces and, more importantly, a chance to tell a compelling story in a different way featuring one of the greatest characters in the franchise’s history.

But seriously, sign me up for that West Wing model if we get it.

The Khan mini-series is a little harder to parse but I can see why they’re going for it. Khan remains the most iconic villain the series has ever had, and, after the misstep of casting Benedict Cumberbatch as him in Star Trek Into Darkness, there’s certainly room for a new, definitive take on the character.

As to what the series could be about, there are a couple of possibilities that spring to mind. The Eugenics Wars have always been somewhat…movable, within Star Trek canon and an origin story that explored them would have a lot of potential. It would also, if done wrong in the current climate, be the televisual equivalent of a slow motion 4K train wreck.

What might be more interesting is an exploration of Khan and his people’s time in exile on Ceti Alpha V. Perhaps there were other visitors before the Reliant or some of them were able to get off world. Either way, it’s the show we know the least about and has the most potential as a result especially as this may well be the secret project Nicholas Meyer has been working on for the last couple of years. Let’s face it, if anyone can bring Khan back and make it work, it’s him. And if Miguel Ángel Silvestre from Sense8 isn’t in the running to play Khan then something has gone seriously wrong.

Finally, the concept of a new Star Trek animated series fills me with glee. Not just because the original did such a great job but because the new series of Voltron in particular has demonstrated time and again just how well episodic SF adapts to the format. It’s also worth noting that this could be where Stewart shows up again. He’s got years of experience doing voice work with Seth MacFarlane and it’d be oddly fitting for him to bring that skill set back to Trek.

Then there are the possibilities of what a Marvel-like approach to Star Trek open up. What if the Academy show introduces a character we see, as an adult, in a later series? Or a crossover which starts in one show and flashes back there for an episode? The Arrowverse has proved time and again how effective these storytelling techniques can be and this is new ground for Trek so anything goes.

And, of course, there are the side benefits. Discovery took endless flak for both its design choices and the fact it didn’t ‘feel’ enough like a prequel for some people. Others wanted a continuation rather than a new start and still others objected to the perception of liberties being taken with the show’s canon and design.

All of those things were and are, for me, among the show’s strongest points. And the beauty of it is now they can be again without being, ironically, the torchbearer for the entire franchise. Trek contains multitudes, and here, at last, is a chance to prove it. Any era, any approach, any subject matter.

It doesn’t matter what we get in a way because the simple act of it being presented in this way means it will be different, and new and interesting. Let Discovery be Discovery. Let the new shows build on what’s gone before. let the audience pick which flavour works for them.

So why is Star Trek punk rock and not metal? Because it’s Star Trek. Because ‘Out there, thataway’. Because of trans temporal cetacean rescue missions and coffee hidden in nebulae. Because of baseball and holographic civil rights. Because of Tom Hardy’s first big job being playing Evil Jean- Luc Picard. Because of dogs named after musketeers and officers who are emotionally compromised. Because of Saru’s ability to sense death and what he says when it isn’t approaching. Because of the untidy canon and the dubious timeline and the hundreds of novels and comics and games.

Because Star Trek is an exuberant sprint, head up, arms wide, into a future where we aren’t alone and we don’t deserve to be. It’s a universe built on hard won compassion and hopefulness, on the joy of discovery and learning and communication. Infinite Diversity in infinite Combinations and sometimes those combinations will absolutely have weird uniforms, or a strange theme tune and that doesn’t matter. Because Star Trek is a universe built on hope, on curiosity and on engaging with and learning from the other. And right now, that’s almost as punk as you can get.

Four new series. Four new takes plus more Discovery and more Orville which plays a lot of the same notes, just in a different order. I can’t wait. And I’ll see you in the mosh pit.

Not The Fox News: New Minds, Fresh Ideas, Free Comics

Free Comic Book Day, this weekend just gone, is an annual event designed to bring people into their local comics stores. Companies produce free books designed to showcase their best material, and stores buy it (Hold that thought) and give it away to customers. There are snacks, balloons, signings, parties.

I love it, firstly because it’s a great outreach tool for an industry I worked in a lot and desperately needs new blood. Secondly because each successive Free Comic Book Day drives a stake a little further into the heart of the Comic Book Guy stereotype. And, as a 6’2, 300 pound former comic store manager, trust me when I say when that worthless garbage take is finally irrevocably dead I will be the first to dance on his grave.

(Quick aside: I once wrote an extended essay on this exact subject, for a comics site. I got this BRILLIANT 3000 word rebuttal emailed to me by someone who proved, using science, that Comic Book Guy is the hero of The Simpsons. I mean, they were completely wrong, but I respect the hustle).

Anyhoo, this is the first FCBD in a while where I’ve been near a store. Crunch Comics, in Reading, is about ten minutes away from my front door and has the exact feel I always look for in comic stores. Despite being smallits clean, brightly lit, cool, tidy and has a real sense of focused energy and enthusiasm to it. It’s the exact sort of store that Free Comic Book Day should be bringing new people to and I made sure to both pick up a couple of books and order a couple of things too.
Because, remember, Free Comic Book Day is only free for you. The stores have to pay so the unspoken social contact has to be; you pick up something free, you order something or buy something.
They didn’t have much stock left, which is always a good sign, but I grabbed a couple of books and read them last night. And it’s only now, having done so, that I realize they accidentally book end everything I love about geek culture, and what’s happening to it, surprisingly well.


WARNING: GIANT ROBOTS AHEAD

Transformers: Unicorn is written by John Barber, has art by Alex Milne, colours by Sebastian Cheng and letters by Tom B Long and is the start of an official endgame for this run of Transformers comics. IDW have held the license for over a decade and in that time have done extraordinary things with it. Till All Are One is essentially The West Wing (Of Cybertron) following the struggles to maintain peace on a world full of functionally-immortal transforming heavily armored robots. Optimus Prime has dived deep into the mindset of the most important leader in Autobot history and discovered just how fallible he can be and More Than Meets The Eye and Lost Light have essentially distilled joy down into comic form.


Seriously, these books are wondrous. More Than Meets The Eye is the story of a blazing argument that leads Hot Rod and a crew of volunteers to leave Cybertron in search of what is almost certainly a myth. They screw up, a lot. They get lost even more. It’s somewhere between Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, Waiting for Godot and Red Dwarf, just with heavily armed transforming robots as the lead. Over the years, the book, and Lost Light its sequel, have explored PTSD, romance, the fluidity of sexual identity and just how in love with himself Hot Rod actually is. They’ve given a redemption narrative, one that landed no less, to the last character that you’d expect. They’ve been hilarious, tragic, heart-warming and inspirational. Everything a licensed comic is traditionally expected not to be.


Unicron is the beginning of the end. The Orson Welles-voiced planet eater is going to munch his way across these books and bring them all to an end, and, presumed reboot. And in doing so, he’s demonstrating the thing no one likes to talk about with comics in particular and stories in general. They have to end. Or rather, they should end.
Comics are long-form serials and that shouldn’t work. A serial, especially a pulp one is driven by cliff-hangers and the longer it goes the less powerful those become. The cliffs get shorter, the explosions smaller. Before long you’re going through the motions rather than telling the story and for a lot of comics, for a lot of time, that’s worked.
The harder, better choice, is to bring things to an end. In doing so, you give your characters a chance to resolve, your readers a chance to say goodbye and you leave the stage before someone yells ‘Do FREEBIRD!’. But you also deny people of that shrinking, but still present, joy of continuation. It’s a difficult path to walk, and I commend the IDW staff for making the call. I’ll still miss this guy though:


And that brings us to Doctor Who. I’ve written before (I think? If not I should) about how Who’s specific gravity dragging everything in UK pop culture back to it is by no means a good thing at times. This, however, is not one of those times.The Doctor Who FCBD offering contains three (Well…kind of…) stories featuring the Tenth, Seventh and Eleventh Doctors.

‘Catch A Falling Star’ follows Tenth Doctor companion Gabby as she falls through space to what she thinks is her death. Written by Nick Abadzis it’s a neat summation of the Tenth Doctor run featuring Gabby and has stunning artwork from Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean. This is truly gorgeous work, using Gabby’s own sketch journals to tell the story and finishing on a beat that’s as surprising as it is welcome. The End, it seems, has been prepared for. And this time at least, is not The End…

‘The Armageddon Gambit’ by John Freeman, with art by Christopher Jones and colours by Marco Lesko is up next. This is the Seventh Doctor and Ace at their finest, playing chess on levels their opponents don’t see coming. It’s breezy and fun and Jones’ artwork does that near impossible thing of capturing likenesses without losing fluidity of expression, Plus, again, there’s a subtle note of hacking the game so you can win here. It’s a Seventh Doctor story certainly but one with a far more grandiose (And REALLY COOL) Console room than the BBC budget ever allowed.

‘Midnight Feast’ is up next, by George Mann with art by Mariano Laclaustra and colours by Carls Cabrera. This is an odd one for me as Eleven is one of the Doctors I have the least time for. However, the story does a great job of emphasizing the best elements of that run’s style. Peckish but not sure for what, Eleven pops the TARDIS off to one of his favorite diners, resolves a dispute or two, fails to find anything he likes and is then introduced to the joys of the tuna sandwich by his companion, Alice. It’s short, breezy, fun and again, ends in a way you wouldn’t expect.

And then this happens.No warning. No dialogue. Just, BOOM.  The 13th Doctor, running headlong into the world with a massive smile on her face and trouble undoubtedly mere pages away. Jody Houser’s script, Rachael Stott’s art, Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt’s letters, it all works perfectly and works instantly. In doing so, it ties everything I’ve been talking about together.
Stories can, and should, end. Otherwise they aren’t stories they’re just doing laps with words. Empty exercises in style and nostalgia that ring hollow even as the few voices still singing along get louder.

But there’s always another way, and it’s one that these books, especially the Doctor Who one, embody;

Change.

The same notes played on a new instrument. New voices. New perspectives. Ones that honor what they’re built on but aren’t beholden to them. Stories that do not gate keep themselves and whose fans shouldn’t either. Because every new voice, every new perspective and new start shows us all something different about the stories we love. And if that isn’t amazing, I don’t know what is.

Happy Free Comic Book Day everyone. Go take your local store donuts and buy something. I’ll see you next month.

(And if you have trouble finding your local comic store, try here. Or, talk to these folks. I used to work for them and they’re good people.)

Not The Fox News: ALL Ages Welcome

Earlier today I tweeted this:

Interesting seeing ‘family friendly’ used as a perjorative in connection with Lost in Space, given that’s what 5 decades of Star Trek and every Star Wars movie ever are.

And I’d like to apologize because ‘Interesting…’ is the exact sort of lead you’d expect from:

  • -Anti-Vaxxers
  • -Passive Aggressive racists
  • -Anyone who uses the phrase ‘The Science Religion’
  • -Christians whose whole faith is summed up in that time Jesus said ‘You know what? Fuck everyone who isn’t a middle-classed white dude or white dude adjacent. YES I KNOW WHAT MIDDLE CLASS IS I’M JESUS.’

It’s an opening conversational gambit used, far too often, by the same people who close a tweet with ‘Makes you think.’ Despite the fact you know full well the only thing that has ever made them think is a crank handle shoved into the port behind their right ear.

I’m better than that.

So are you.

So, sincerely, I’m sorry.

The Netflix Lost in Space reboot is very good. It’s very good in stealthy ways that aren’t immediately apparent. It puts one of it’s faults, that the adults are all broken and kind of assholish, front and center, waits for you to call it a fault and then goes ‘HA HAAAAA! FEATURE! NOT BUG!’. The robot design is great. The show expertly balances cliffhanger-every-5-minute-peril with smart perspective shifts and location shooting that feels convincingly alien.

It’s not perfect but no show ever is in it’s first season. It is however fun, and interesting and massive hearted. It puts three genuinely excellent child actors, and a brilliantly realized sibling dynamic, front and centre and tells excellent stories with them.

It’s also family entertainment. And has been decried as such which is peak, self-righteous, backwards rocket genre nonsense. Here’s why.

Star Wars is family entertainment. Oh sure it’s never been explicitly marketed as such but those movies and cartoons especially are designed for children of all ages. You want a morality fable? Sorted. A comedic subplot involving putting the whining droid back together? Yep. A nascent acceptance of adulthood as a mantle and a gift plus cute teddy bears with spears? They got you. Star Wars is one of those pieces of entertainment that gives you what you bring to it. Likewise the Marvel movies. Likewise Star Trek. All of it. And Pixar. All of that. And every Disney movie. And about 15 to 25 acknowledged literary classics.

And countless thousands of comics. And video games. For starters.

Then there’s the fact that when you criticize family entertainment what you actually sound like is this:

‘This was built for kids?! WHY?!’

Well they’ll outlive you for a start. Eventually they’ll grow up and have money and free time. They’ll want to use both to do things they love. And if the things they love are being a fan of a TV show? Or an author? Or a comic? Then that lives on. And with it, a small part of everyone who’s ever felt joy at it.

This is why I always like the Morningstar shortlist at the Gemmell Awards, because it gives you a snapshot of where the genre is heading. It’s why I always despair at the Legend shortlists because, with some exceptions it goes to the exact sort of book that scares away newcomers.

Stories are myths. Books are myths we buy and argue endlessly in subreddits about but they’re myths nonetheless. Myths want to survive. We want them to survive. And much like the frankly concussed belief accidentally expressed by Marvel last year that ‘diversity wasn’t working’, the same authors and same book types winning the same award over and again proves one thing. A small, closed ecology. One that won’t survive without the very new blood it seems completely uninterested in welcoming.

The exact same mindset that, turned a little to the left, looks at a new TV show and goes ‘Yeah this is all ages suitable therefore it’s dull and rubbish.’

Don’t be that guy. (Because nine times out of ten? It’s a guy). Please. You deserve better and so do the rest of us and you know how we get that?

By coming in open minded. By trying new things safe in the knowledge that they won’t invalidate the old. By getting just a little lost, in the best way and trusting that we’ll find our way out to somewhere new, and better, and BIGGER. Somewhere All Ages can feel at home.

Play us out, Joey.

(Special thanks to the lovely Eamonn Griffin who directed me to these BBFC notes regarding Star Wars.)

Not The Fox News: Brand New, Retro

This Is one of my favorite pieces of art. It shares its name with a movement; Raygun Gothic. I love it. It’s chrome and enthusiastic and sleek. It’s the promise of a brave new world, a ship eternally staring heroically out at the recruiting poster that is the universe, ready to boldly go and look great doing it. It’s also a particular aesthetic and kind of art that enfolds everything from gas stations and that mooring point for zeppelins on top of the Empire State to classic William Gibson story ‘The Gernsback Continuum.’ Oh! And the wonderful short film version of it is online over here. Mildly NSFW. Totally worth it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about RayGun Gothic recently, because of a couple of things I’ve noticed in genre recently. The first is the always present belief that the genre peaked decades, or even centuries ago and that the best work available is from that time. The second is the newfound nostalgia wave that will crest and break later this year with the release of Ready Player One.

That first one is, for me, embodied by the Retro Hugos. These are the Hugo awards given for works of science fiction released before the Hugo Awards existed. For many people the RH’s are vital. For me, though, the simple reason for their existence embodies the tip of an iceberg of backwards facing futurism which is as infuriating as it is all pervasive. The desire to seek the future in the past is comes ready equipped with a pair of rose tinted goggles, but it’s also inherently reductive. Because if you’re looking back you’re refusing to look forward. And you can stare at the flights on Time’s Arrow all you want but all that means is you’ll never see the future coming.
And the thing is, the future’s here. It’s always here, arriving a second at a time, a book at a time, a cultural phenomenon at a time. There has never been a better time to work in this field. There have never been fewer barriers, never been more tools, never been more chances to do more good by talking to more people than ever before. And yet, so many of us look backwards. And these days, we don’t have to look that far back.

Enter Ready Player One, stage left, probably talking about Ghostbusters.

Full disclosure time; I loathed the book. I don’t bail out of books very often but when I do I tend to do so hard and fast and I don’t think I made it fifty pages into Ready Player One. I was there for a good chunk of this culture, I liked (And hated) it the first time round. Telling me how cool the cultural life raft I clung to because it was the only one had is not going to endear your novel to me.


And yet, in a weird way, Ready Player One is actually the exact opposite of the Retro Hugos. It’s a postmodernist re purposing of these characters and stories, the cinematic equivalent of the first Avalanches album. That, by the way, famously consisted of 900 samples and took a year to go through legal clearance outside its native Australia. It’s a new story built out of old parts and that, much like the Gus Van Sant shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, is where the art lies. Play a new tune on old instruments. Play old tunes on new ones.
Like the Retro Hugos and their ilk, there are vast flotillas of people who I know and trust who love the book and cannot wait for the movie. I’m not one of them. I will however, happily wave to them as the Ready Player One boat sets sail out across pop culture lake. And who knows, I may end up watching it on Netflix in a couple of year’s time.

But still, this idea, even travelling in two directions as I’ve shown it does here, troubles me. I suspect it’s part of a wider issue, living as I presently do, in the final months of Bigot Island’s time in the EU. There’s an increasingly tangible sense of the clock not so much being turned as shoved backwards and that seems to be permeating culture too. The thought of Dunkirk and Darkest Hour sweeping the board at the Oscars would make me skin crawl in any year but this one? More so than ever. The past is a foreign country, and yet too many of us still apply for permanent residency.

There isn’t a nice tidy wrap up here because there isn’t a nice tidy wrap up to the issue. I could write tens of thousands of words on steampunk alone and how for every fascinating dissection and questioning of the past you get there, you get at least one ‘Dirigibles! Aeronauts! Old timey racism!’ piece of trash. Likewise the endless need for comics in particular to rehash old ground, the elements of fandom that still, somehow, believe that older stories were apolitical and better and so on.
This stuff is everywhere. And that’s the problem. And that’s also the solution.
Like I said earlier, there has never been a better time to work in this field. There have never been fewer barriers, never been more tools, never been more chances to do more good by talking to more people than ever before. And yet, so many of us look backwards.
And so many more of us look EVERYWHERE.
The past holds both answers and joy, whether as a place for a cultural vacation or a foundation to build something new and better on. Look at Black Panther as an example, a film that took the inconceivably racist character Man-Ape and turned him into M’Baku who steals a good chunk of the movie’s second half. The past doesn’t have all the answers. But it can show us some of the questions we should be asking.
And so, to the future! Which doesn’t exist yet and the parts that do are often weird shaped, taste funny and have pro nouns that seem different and unsettling. AND THAT’S THE POINT. We can only take the future in small doses but those doses are vital. It’s like adjusting to sticking your head under water while you swim, it feels fucking HORRIFYING for the first few times and then…it just…clicks. You get comfortable. You speed up.

You progress.

And you do so by not just re-learning something you used to do, but by trying something new at the same time.

Kind of like using an old rocket ship design as art.

Enjoy your ray guns, folks. And use them to carve something no one has ever seen before into the industry. It’s your time.

Not The Fox News: The 2018 To Do List

I think, before we go any further, we need to make one thing clear.

FUCK 2017.

This miserable, shithousing catastrophe storm of a year didn’t even have the common goddamn decency to be a parade of outright misery like 2016 was. We didn’t lose David Bowie or Prince again (Although 2017 would have resurrected them just to kill them if it could) but we did get to see both the aftermath of 2016 and just what a 12 month long descent into Global Idiocy looks like.

FUCK 2017. Fuck it so hard, this video, which closed last year’s final column is just as relevant now.

So, with that established, what’s next? Easy. Kindness. Enthusiasm. Hope.

Kindness first off. There’s been a lot of circular discussion in creative circles about how hard it’s been to work this year. And it has been, make no mistake. I’ve been tremendously lucky in that it hasn’t hit me directly but even I’ve felt it. The compulsion not to work, not to even recover from the latest installment of Stupid Watergate or Keeping Up Appearances For Your Racist Scumbag Uncle, but to brace for whatever’s next.
I have a lot of experience with bracing. I have a lot of experience with standing in the breach and holding on until the horror passes, taking a breath and trying to heal before it starts again.
It doesn’t get you anywhere except standing in the way of harm with ever decreasing intervals to recover.

Don’t do that.

And the best way to not do that? Is make sure others don’t. Once a week, or a month, or whatever, reach out to someone you know. Get in contact, go for a coffee, chat in DMs, whatever. Bitch, whine, laugh, scream. Whatever. But talk to someone else regularly because that will mean they come off the line. And that means you will too. And that in turn means people around you will do the same thing. Take breaks. Rest. Have fun. You’re allowed fun. Fun is VITAL.
Be kind. Because kindness has momentum to it and all it ever does is create more kindness, more momentum, more enthusiasm. That old saying ‘be the change you want to be in the world’? It’s annoying because it’s true. My own personal version ‘Be the friend bearing coffee you want to meet you for lunch in the world’ is less punchy but perhaps a little less sappy too. Also, coffee.

Next up, enthusiasm.
You’re not just allowed to be enthusiastic about things, it’s pretty much mandatory.
And I say that as a BRIT.
There will be pieces of culture you like, pieces you love and pieces that light you up like a Christmas tree. No one’s will be the same. It’s like we’re all holding different pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle and they fit together anyway we want them to. And we fit them together when we talk about what we love, when we’re enthusiastic about them. We make our lives better by talking about what we love.
We make everyone’s lives better by listening to what other people love. That’s how, as Bill Hicks once put it, we get on the spaceships and get out of here.
Culture is a language, that’s how I always think of it. The more you know, the more new things you encounter, the better you can speak it. Be enthusiastic, listen when others are. Everyone will win if you do.

And finally, hope.
For a very long time I was Charlie Brown getting the football taken away at the last minute. So long, in fact, that my big problem now is closing. I will do 75% of a job but even now, years later, I have to struggle to believe that the final 25% is going to be worth doing sometimes.
I struggle to hope. Professionally, at least, a lot of the time.
I plan to change that in 2018.
Whatever form it takes for you, hope. If it’s a job you don’t think you’ll get, go for it. If it’s a task you don’t think you’ll complete, start it. If it’s something you’ve never cooked before, cook it. The worst thing that will happen is you learn you don’t want to do it again.

The best? You WIN. You chisel some more space for yourself out of the year and fill it with enthusiasm for what you’ve just done and kindness for those around you because if you got a win? They can too and once they do? The process starts all over again and we cycle up into positive, fun experiences instead of down into the never ending whirlpool of Suck.

Kindness.
Enthusiasm.
Hope.
Or, as a well known Doctor put it, laugh hard, run fast, be kind.

As New Year To Do lists go that sounds pretty great doesn’t it?

See you in 2018. Happy New Year everyone.

Not The Fox News: 2017’s Non Awful Bits: The Babysitter

It’s been Happy Christmas! Welcome to one of my favorite times of year, the week that isn’t quite anything!

 

Know what it’s perfect for?

 

MOVIES.

 

It’s been a planes, trains and automobiles kind of month. A trip to Vegas for a friend’s wedding, another friend’s vow renewal and PENN AND TELLER!!!!!! Was followed by two trips into That London and a journey to Winterfell for my dad’s first ever book launch.

It’s been GREAT. it’s also been exhausting. And annoying in spots. I am consistently about an inch and a half wider than seats than are designed so I get shoulder checked basically every time someone comes down the aisle. As a result, on long journeys I sleep pretty intermittently (Although I passed out somewhere above Hudson Bay and woke up somewhere above Ireland on the journey back which is a WIN).

I watch movies when I travel. A lot of movies. And I can honestly say I’ve seen very little this year that’s more fun than The Babysitter.

Released on Netflix a little while ago, The Babysitter stars Judah Lewis as Cole. Cole i a 12 year old kid, sweet, nerdy, and perpetually babysat. His parents love him but they also…well…they need some space. So he’s regularly left alone for the weekend while they go and have ‘hotel therapy’ and Bee, his babysitter, looks after him. Played with Harley Quinnian joy by Samara Weaving, Bee is no nonsense, nerdy to the core, tough as nails and gorgeous. Cole is very much in love.

That is not going to end well for him.

After a relatively slow opening 15 minutes, The Babysitter puts every piece of chocolate in the house in the blender, adds all the coffee and downs it in one. The second two acts escalate with just startling grace as Cole discovers the truth about Bee and is hunted by a carefully picked ensemble of some of the best young actors and actresses working today. It’s like a Joe Dante movie mixed with the middle of a Supernatural episode before the boys show up. Only they never do and the only person who can save the kid is the kid.

I love this movie so many different ways. Samara Weaving is about to have a very good horror year with the imminent release of Mayhem and she’s GREAT here. Brian Duffield’s script cleverly gives her just enough back story for you to fill in the rest and Weaving balances flamboyant charm with dead eyed rage perfectly. The supporting cast are great too, especially Bella Thawne as a would-be conspirator and Robbie Amell as, well, Robbie Amell. The Amell boys have been doing great work for a while but Robbie, here and in the magnificent The Duff, shows truly remarkab;e comic timing. The dude’s amazing, and it’s a pleasure to see him work.

But the stars  are Judah Lewis and McG. Lewis is amazing as Cole precisely because he’s so normal. I’ve been this kid; nice, unsure of himself, terrified of everything. He’s instantly likable and Lewis has an incredible line in long-suffering commentary that gives the movie some of it’s best lines.

And McG is so clearly having fun that he sweeps you along with him. There’s a specific moment where the film goes full Grindhouse and from that second on McG is off the leash and running down the hill, screaming with joy. Captions, freeze-frames, locked off and mobile cameras. Everything is on the table here and everything is used to create a movie that’s scary, clever, funny and FUN. Best of all, the film doesn’t so much sidestep the ‘…OR IS IT?!’ Beat that horror movies have leant on for decades as turn it into something earned and fitting.

The Babysitter is FUN. Nasty, stabby, sweary fun. It’s in my top 3 movies of the year and I can’t wait to see it again. If you’ve got Netflix, do yourself a favor, and check it out. And bring your pen knife…