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

 

Launch Day – The PseudoPod Tapes 2 – Approach with Caution

If you are not already familiar with Escape Artists horror podcast you should check it out. The whole Escape Artists podcast family is professionally put together and brings great stories and fabulous narration right to your ears!

For the horror podcast, Alasdair Stuart is the host and this is the second volume of his outro essays, in this case covering 2013.

Alasdair is a gem of genre journalism, as anyone who reads his newsletter The Full Lid, or our own, Not the Fox News will be familiar. He is a veritable geekpedia of knowledge, mixed with a rare openness that makes his writing extremely personal.

We are delighted to welcome the tentacled horrors of PseudoPod and their host back to Fox Spirit.

Ebook is available now from our own store and will be appearing on amazon worldwide as we speak, the print edition will be available from Monday. 

 

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: Turn The Page, Do The Thing

Good news everyone! I’m reliably informed by people in other time zones that 2018 does in fact end! Seriously, folks, the 1st of January 2019 has been confirmed as happening in several other places. It’s okay. It’s okay. This miserable hellscape of a year is about to be gone and the slate is wiped clean, the clock reset to zero.

I want to talk about that and why sometimes it can be frightening.

Like Ford once said, time is an illusion, lunch time doubly so. The end of a year is an entirely arbitrary temporal hinge, a left turn in our passage through linear time that it’s super easy to put a whole lot of unneeded pressure on. It’s why most fitness related new year’s resolutions don’t work, because when it comes down to it it’s only the top of the year for a little bit of time. 2019 only has that New Time smell for so long.

That can put extraordinary pressure on you, and by you, I mean us. But the thing I’m realizing this year is that pressure can be exerted two different ways. If you had a great 2018 part of you may be terrified that 2019 will be worse. If you had a terrible 2018 part of you will be terrified that 2019 will be worse. The House always wins. And the House is a Bastard.

We put ourselves under strain at this time of year even before you take into account the radical life reboots that are already rippling around the globe. Going from late nights back to early mornings if you’ve had time off, the sudden gaping hole in your day where the Quality Street used to be, the total absence of any version of A Christmas Carol. It’s always a little frightening to deal with, you always find yourself shrugging the coat of responsibility back on and wondering if it always had the mittens tied to the cuffs.

(it did. And they look awesome.)

And then you decide to run three times a week, finish a novel, write a novella and plan something else.

Here’s the thing. Do that. But add something else in too.

Downtime.

My partner and I have, between us, somewhere in the region of four jobs. She’s a lawyer, we run the podcasting company together, I’m an RPG designer and journalist, she’s an editor. We fight crime. And it really is, I am a blessed man who will go to his grave astounded at what his life is in the very best of ways.

But the one thing we absolutely stink at is downtime. And today we did something about that. Two nights off a week, one full day of weekend when we aren’t working. I promise you we will break those restrictions but I also promise we won’t do it every time. Because you need downtime and if you don’t take it, your body will take it for you. And I say this at the tail end of my second cold in three weeks, so believe me, I know whereof I hack up phlegm.

The New Year attracts us because it’s a new start. The New Year frightens us because it’s a blank page and the responsibility of what to put on there can bend you in two. Don’t let it. Or at least don’t let it for long. This is a new start. It’s one that’s unique to you and owned by everyone. It’s one arriving at the end of two of the darkest years in recent memory and with more, odds are, on the way. But that isn’t going to stop you and it’s not going to stop me either.

Write the words. Do the thing. Show it to others. Share your joy. Like the lady said, let’s get a shift on. Tomorrow is a new start and tomorrow’s on the way. I’ll see you in there.

 

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: There Is Hope

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope recently. Not just the abstract concept, although it is one of my personal favorites along with ‘biscuits’ and ‘Every Brooklyn Nine-Nine cold open ever’. But rather the fact it’s often overlooked in genre fiction and how powerful it can be when it’s there.

My earliest exposure to serial fiction, and hope in science fiction, was the Sector General series by James White. These were a series of novels, novellas and short stories set aboard the Sector
General station, a neutral medical facility designed to cater for aliens of any biology and scale. The problems, the antagonists, were more often the challenge of getting the patient diagnosed or sedated than anything action related (Although there was occasional punching) and the end result was a series of stories that presented as fundamentally benevolent puzzles. One particularly great instalment involved the logistics of operating on an alien the size of a continent.

I took two things away from the Sector General books. The first was a reaffirmation of my profound respect for every stripe of emergency responder and customer facing profession. My dad was a teacher. My mom was a nurse. I have friends and family in emergency response, the Armed Services and political journalism. All of them put themselves between society and harm for a living. All of them, to misquote A Few Good Men, stand on the wall and tell us nothing bad’s going to happen while they’re there. Or at the very least, nothing else bad.

The second was a fondness for stories that were based around that very concept; hope. It’s intoxicating, especially these days, to look at fiction that has at it’s core a belief in the fundamental goodness of people. And the brilliant, tragic thing about that is that ‘these days’ could apply to any period in the stretch of history that humanity has told stories to itself. The world is always ending but never quite does. And there’s always hope.

There’s no more intellectual demonstration of this than Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Sir Patrick
Stewart’s iconic role in Star Trek: The Next Generation remains the star around which decades of
TV, movies, comics and novels orbit. Picard was, and still is, the anti-Kirk. Intellectual where his
predecessor was instinctive, compassionate where his predecessor was impulsive. A warrior when needed. A diplomat by choice. Plus he could throw Shakespearean truth bombs like no one else.

The thing I always particularly loved about Picard was that he was a team player. The best leaders are the ones who listen, and so much of TNG was about just that; a problem being worked by a room full of brilliant people, some of whom were human, all of whom were fallible. There’s one particular episode where everything has gone VERY pear shaped and Picard’s first response is to stand, pull his jacket down (obvs) and address the bridge in that stentorian, France by way of Sheffield voice:

‘SUGGESTIONS’

An instinctive leader, in a tight situation, trusting his people to know things, and see things, that he doesn’t. I think about that a lot, both as a man and as the co-owner of a company.
And now, Captain (later, Admiral and if I remember correctly, Ambassador) Picard is making a
return. Stewart has confirmed that a mini-series focusing on him is in the works. That’s amazing
news, not just because Stewart is a titan but because Picard is the exact sort of lead that 2018
popular culture desperately needs. Intelligent, measured, calm. Doesn’t own a twitter account.
Yes, this could be a Logan situation where we watch Stewart do ‘Samuel Beckett! In! Spaaaaaace!’
But even if that’s the case the character is still fundamentally hopeful, still concerned in his entirety with the best of people. Still someone with intelligence in one hand and compassion in the other, wielding both not as weapons but as tools. Still an icon of hope.

Which brings us to Ant-Man and the Wasp. The sequel to one of the better versions of White Man
Begins that Marvel had us slog through over the last few years is just ridiculously charming from
the get go. Everything that didn’t work last time has been dialled down, everything that did work
has been dialled up and it feels like the Ant-Man movies have now joined the Captain America and Guardians movies as having a distinctive style all their own.

And, fundamentally, the best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp is that there isn’t a bad guy,
there’s an antagonist.

Hannah John-Kamen is one of those performers whose work has been effortlessly good from the
jump off. She’s incredible in Killjoys, she’s great in Black Mirror, the cameo she has in Tomb Raider
and basically everything else. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, she plays Ghost, a dimensionally
dislocated thief and assassin. She survived the accident that killed her parents, which in turn
damaged her on the quantum level meaning her cells constantly tear apart and reform. She’s
essentially unlocked at the quantum level, leaving a ghostly image of herself when she moves and able to phase through solid objects. Rescued by SHIELD, and turned into an assassin by what’s implied to be Hydra-controlled SHIELD, she lives in constant agony and the relief for her pain is wound up with the very personal rescue mission that drives the A plot of the movie.

She’s also a chronic pain sufferer, albeit one with a science fictional twist. And the moment it becomes apparent that her condition is directly linked to Hank Pym’s research, the movie becomes two rescue missions, one of which is to save her. No science weirdo left behind, not on this watch.

It’s such a brilliant move that it’s passed a lot of people by. Because to be clear, Ghost is a villain
for a good two thirds of the movie. One of the best action sequences is a knockdown drag out
brawl between her and Wasp where her phasing powers and Wasp’s size control basically mean
one shot in three lands and all of them hurt. One of the others is a chase which basically involves
Scott hurling himself around obstacles with acrobatic abandon while Ghost methodically walks
through them. She’s always a threat, but when that threat is contextualised she becomes
something greater, rarer and infinitely more interesting; someone with immense power, in need of immense help. A spy who brought in from the quantum cold by the offer of the one thing no one can resist;
Hope.

There are other examples too. Margaret Stohl’s extraordinary, brave deep dive into the abusive
past of Captain Marvel. The rise of the 20 minute explainer as a program in its own right instead of a news segment. Culture, on every front, in every way is starting to rise to meet the hellscape of the late 10’s with the best possible tool to solve the problem; knowledge and through that, yet
again, hope.

And it needs to. 2018 is a dumpster fire of increasingly 20116ian proportion. But there have been
2016s and 2018s before. The world is always ending, but it never quite does and, like The Crystal Method said, there is hope. And right now, there’s more than there was at the top of the year. That’s not a large victory by any means but you know what? It’s a damn good start.

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: 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…