SAVE THE LAST DANCE: a hip, hopeful MTV romance (2000 in Film #2)

20 years on from the year 2001, I’m looking back at some of the films across the year which stood out as among the more interesting, and year-defining, pictures…

This week, released on the weekend of January 12th, Thomas Carter’s Save the Last Dance

Anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s understands the power MTV had on their lives in these formative years. Before the dawn of YouTube, hours could be spent immersed in the cable channels around MTV watching endless music videos from across the decades. This, for many of us, is where our knowledge and appreciation of the music we grew to embrace, in part, came from.

The success of MTV—which had forged the careers of numerous future cinematic auteurs including among others Michel Gondry and David Fincher—logically extended into the cinematic realm with the formation of MTV Productions in 1996 – their movie studio arm. While their reach has today declined, at the end of the ’90s, MTV Productions would develop pictures as diverse as Mike Judge’s juvenile Beavis & Butthead Do America, teen college drama Varsity Blues and Alexander Payne’s erudite, caustic Election, the latter both in the cinematic boom year of 1999. It is hard to square such a wildly different set of pictures from the same production house aside from one common denominator: they were all about, for or aimed at the teenage movie market.

Save the Last Dance is an example of how MTV Productions worked to bridge the gap between the independent movie which had emerged during the ‘90s as an antidote to the dominance of the tentpole blockbuster that came to bear from the late 1970s onwards, and the burgeoning concept of the cinematic franchise that by the end of the 2000s would bear fruit and burst into existence as the 2010s arrived.

It feels like a picture born of both worlds simultaneously.

Continue reading “SAVE THE LAST DANCE: a hip, hopeful MTV romance (2000 in Film #2)”

New Interview: MYTH-BUILDING IN MODERN MEDIA on Author Interviews

Brand new interview.

I was very pleased to be featured on the excellent Author Interviews site, alongside some rather esteemed contemporaries, to discuss my book Myth-Building in Modern Media, my writing journey and practices, and what I’ve been enjoying reading lately.

This was conducted during the Covid-19 lockdown in the summer but it’s still a relevant window into my process. Here’s a little taster and you can find a link below.

Continue reading “New Interview: MYTH-BUILDING IN MODERN MEDIA on Author Interviews”

New Podcast: MOTION PICTURES – ‘Cinematic Royalty’ (The Queen & The Crown)

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Motion Pictures, myself and my co-host Carl Sweeney, joined by special guest Sarah. L. Blair, are talking royalty with the return of prestige Netflix series The Crown.

They discuss the series in the context of films about royalty, such as Stephen Frears’ The Queen, and how The Crown is crossing the bridge between television and cinema…

Continue reading “New Podcast: MOTION PICTURES – ‘Cinematic Royalty’ (The Queen & The Crown)”

Go Go, Power Franchise! Revisiting POWER RANGERS

Craig McKenzie, in the wake of news about a brand new Power Rangers universe, revisits the franchise…

Power Rangers is in the news once again with Hasbro hiring Jonathan Entwistle to head up a shared universe of film and TV adaptations of the franchise. Entwistle has said that he’s working on a “reboot universe” and a “whole new world” for the property. Fans of franchises have heard all this before and will recognise that such phrasing doesn’t always result in a good thing.

I am writing this from the perspective of someone who still counts himself a fan of Power Rangers despite not having watched any of the new output in a long time. When I was growing up in the ’90s I was obsessed with it, just as many my age were, and my love for it has never really gone away, though it’s fair to say I grew out of what it had to offer. My relationship with the show ended somewhere around the Zeo iteration of the franchise and I’ve never had cause to pick it back up where I left off. One thing I did when the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers appeared on Netflix was go back and watch those early adventures, although I never quite got to the point where I’d stopped.

What I found during my revisit was that the charm of the series hadn’t faded for me, despite being well aware of how schlocky it was with the benefit–or drawback–of hindsight. The elements that I once enjoyed were still present and there was an innocent purity to it that remained infectious, even despite the natural cynicism that adulthood breeds.

Continue reading “Go Go, Power Franchise! Revisiting POWER RANGERS”

Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘Repercussions’ (3×05 – Review)

In 2018, we began a deep-dive TV review series looking at J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at Season Three’s 22-episode run in detail…

Outside of Reunion, Repercussions probably stands as the least remarkable episode of Alias’ third season yet, operating as it does in the shadow of a far more interesting hour.

A Missing Link expressly tethered Syd’s growing panic over her moral virtue with the primary Covenant narrative and the overarching mythology of her missing time very neatly, ending on a Season One-style cliffhanger which Repercussions immediately has to resolve. We all know Vaughn isn’t dying at this stage of the series or season, and Jesse Alexander’s script has to very swiftly get him out of that life or death situation, though to the episodes credit it does not simply move on to the next mission as Season One’s pulpy tales would have done. The character inter-relationships in Alias have too much lode bearing for that to be possible these days, and part of the titular repercussions lie squarely on Syd facing the consequences of stabbing Vaughn to save his life at the close of the previous hour.

Repercussions isn’t simply about Syd’s actions, however, rather referring to the after-effects of the previous season. This hour of Alias is all about characters having to face the weight of events that took place particularly between these two seasons, and during those missing years. Not just Syd’s alias as Julia Thorne but Sloane’s partnership with African arms dealer Kazari Bomani, or even Jack brutally avoiding the horror of Simon Walker explaining his daughter’s sexual proclivities. The problem is that Repercussions suggests much and actually explains little, a common problem during this season of Alias particularly. What could have been an episode which blew open key points of revelation across the missing time period, or contextualised certain character threads, remains maddeningly unresolved even for Alias.

It is disposable and transitory, part of the necessary plot mechanisms of the season, enlivened primarily by one or two character interactions and set pieces that provide enjoyment.

Continue reading “Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘Repercussions’ (3×05 – Review)”

Book Review: ROD SERLING: HIS LIFE, WORK, AND IMAGINATION (Nicholas Parisi)

Eric Gilliland with a review of Nicholas Parisi’s deep dive into one of television’s greatest storytellers…

Few figures have influenced the popular memory more than Rod Serling (1924-1975).

His work continues to captivate the imaginations of millions in the decades since his passing. In our current era of uncertainty with a creeping authoritarianism seeping into the political discourse we turn to Serling’s warnings on the dangers of prejudice, demagoguery, and intolerance going unchecked. Nicholas Parisi’s comprehensive study covers Sterling’s wide-ranging work in multiple mediums that included radio, television, theater, and film.

A volume of perceptive criticism with valuable biographical insights, Parisi traces Serling’s evolution as a writer and the themes he returned to throughout his career as a writer and public personality.Continue reading “Book Review: ROD SERLING: HIS LIFE, WORK, AND IMAGINATION (Nicholas Parisi)”

THE CROWN: The Ladies Not For Turning (Season 4 – Review)

The fourth season of The Crown revolves around three of the most powerful, beloved and divisive women in 20th century British history: Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher and Diana, Princess of Wales.

That makes Season Four of Peter Morgan’s half-century-plus spanning political, dramatic opus perhaps the most anticipated year of the series to date. Filled with intrigue the post-WW2 years of Elizabeth’s coronation or the revolutionary state-led changes to British societal fabric of the 1960s might be, they struggle to hold a candle to the scandal-fuelled, politically thrilling 1980s as Her Majesty finds herself balanced between two very different wars. One between the newly-minted Thatcher and the people suffering thanks to her policies, with her one-woman quest to banish economic decline and revive moral-led, individualist British values in full flow. The other betwixt her son and heir, Charles, and his beautiful new wife, a woman who swiftly captured the heart of a nation.

Many viewers of this season of The Crown will have been there and recall this period of modern British history vividly.

Taking place between 1979 and 1990, I was a touch too young to remember key incidents play out here, born as I was in 1982, but having come into the world a mere three weeks before Prince William, I grew up acutely aware of Princess Diana as someone who meant a great deal to my mother. She encapsulated something the Royal Family had never encountered before and might never encounter again – a bridge between the huddled masses who still, at this stage, believed in the traditional pomp and ceremony of royalty, and the Royal line themselves. My mother had the Charles & Di wedding memorabilia. She bought into the marriage and was, like many, disappointed to see it begin to break apart.

The Crown brings to bear history that remains powerfully tethered to the world we now live in, to a greater extent than any season before. That adds to the expectation and, ultimately, doubles the disappointment when the end result isn’t quite as excoriating or far reaching as you want it to be.

Continue reading “THE CROWN: The Ladies Not For Turning (Season 4 – Review)”

Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘A Missing Link’ (3×04 – Review)

In 2018, we began a deep-dive TV review series looking at J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at Season Three’s 22-episode run in detail…

Having established the base foundation of Season Three, Alias is free to begin assembling the building blocks in A Missing Link, the first episode that truly displays quite how the series’ new raison d’etre can successfully function.

The Two was burdened with grounding Sydney back in the world after her missing time, while Succession muddies the waters with introducing the central overarching antagonists of both Sark and the Covenant, before Reunion fairly awkwardly focuses on Lauren’s full arrival and how Syd can operate within these new dynamics. A Missing Link has the space, with all of this clear and out of the way, to laser focus into the central mystery of not just Sydney’s lost two years, but also the core existential idea of the series itself: the alias. Syd in this episode discovers she had an alias during her missing time she never even knew about: Julia. Quite who this woman is or was remains an enigma, but A Missing Link—as the title suggests—begins Syd’s, and our, process of sketching in those details.

In form and structure, A Missing Link feels perhaps the most Season One episode of Alias in a very long time.

Back in those early days of the show, we quite often had stories which saw Syd on an extended mission which connected over two episodes, and led to some very audience-baiting, adventure serial-style cliffhanger endings week on week with Syd directly in peril – take A Broken Heart into Doppleganger or Reckoning into Color Blind, for instance. The difference with A Missing Link, and where newly recruited writers Monica Breen & Alison Schapker develop this form, is that it affords Syd the opportunity to bed into her alias to a degree very few episodes in the show’s past have ever given her the space to do. Because her mission to infiltrate the cell of international super-thief Simon Walker directly connects to her missing time, A Missing Link manages to tether its main plot and Syd’s character arc into the broader ongoing mythology in more of an effective manner than any outing this season yet.

“Who the hell is Julia?”, as voiced by Weiss, becomes the central refrain of this episode, for the audience and for our main character.

Continue reading “Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘A Missing Link’ (3×04 – Review)”

New Guest Podcast Appearance: THE MOVIE PALACE – ‘The Long Goodbye’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of The Movie Palace, I step in as host, joined by guest Leslie Byron Pitt, to discuss Robert Altman’s classic 1973 Raymond Chandler adaptation, The Long Goodbye

Continue reading “New Guest Podcast Appearance: THE MOVIE PALACE – ‘The Long Goodbye’”

New Podcast Appearance: FANDOMENTALS PODCAST – ‘Non-Fiction Writing with Tony Black’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Fandomentals Podcast, I was delighted to join host Harley Mumford to discuss my journey as a writer, my book and non-fiction writing in general.

It was a really interesting chat and Harley a great host in the bargain, so do consider subscribing to the show.

Continue reading “New Podcast Appearance: FANDOMENTALS PODCAST – ‘Non-Fiction Writing with Tony Black’”