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My 12 for ’14: The Babadook & Living With Demons…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The Babadook is a delightfully well-executed Australian horror film for most of its run-time, an uncomfortable and occasionally harrowing exploration of guilt, resentment and motherhood. The scares are executed cleanly and efficiently, and director Jennifer Kent does an admirable job of ratcheting up the tension as the movie ticks along. However, the most interesting and clever aspects of The Babadook are found nestled in the movie’s final few minutes, providing a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion to the allegorical horror film.

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Note: This “best of” entry includes spoilers for The Babadook. You should probably go and see the movie, particularly if you are a horror fan. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Still there? Good. Let’s continue. Continue reading

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Trigger Street Productions and Adrien Brody Launch the Fourth Year of Jameson First Shot Film Competition

The Jameson First Shot film competition is back for a fourth year. In partnership with Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti of Trigger Street Productions, Jameson is on the hunt for the globe’s most gifted, undiscovered filmmakers with compelling stories to tell. Three talented winners will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have their scripts turned into short films and to direct Adrien Brody in the lead role. Not bad for a First Shot. The winning shorts will be premiered in LA with the acclaimed team in attendance.

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My 12 for ’14: Guardians of the Galaxy and “the Day I Left Earth”…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel movie through-and-through. It comes with burdened with all the trappings that one expects from a Marvel film. Thanos provides a mostly superfluous element that clouds the narrative while serving as an advertisement for a film several years away. Ronan the Accuser makes for a suitably banal villain, like a cosplaying fan who won’t choose between his deep abiding affection for Thor and his love of the Smurfs. The third act is a jumbled mess, one that occasionally loses sight of its characters amid all the CGI spectacle.

And, yet, it works in spite all this. One of Marvel’s biggest problems as a movie studio is the way that it tends to smother individual creators in pursuit of a more consistent project. The studio’s best films  – Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 – are the films that aren’t afraid to let a writer or director’s voice shine through. In contrast, the weakest entries – Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2 – try desperately to drown out any hint of personality in pursuit of something that can be homogenised; rendered safely within the studio’s comfort zone.

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After all, Marvel is a company that likes to play it safe. It is a studio that would replace Edgar Wright with Peyton Reed for Ant Man. It is a movie that would gladly have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin its wheels for two-thirds of a season so it can wait for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to arrive in theatres. It is a studio that has build six movies around blonde white actors named Chris without a single female- or minority-led superhero film. (Sure, Black Panther and Captain Marvel are coming… eventually, but Black Widow remains a rotating co-star.)

To be fair to Marvel, this system makes a certain amount of sense. It avoids horrific misfires like Catwoman or Elektra, but also does not allow for anything as transcendental and unique as Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan’s work with Batman. Guardians of the Galaxy is very much a product of this system. It is safe, hitting all the necessary plot beats and offering minutes of screentime (and plot convolutions) as tribute to the shared universe. However, there is just enough of James Gunn left in the final product to make it all worthwhile. The film retains a sense of oddness and charm that prevents it from ever feeling generic.

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Star Trek – Journey to Babel (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Journey to Babel is pretty influential, as episodes of Star Trek go. It is an episode that really cements idea of the Federation that came to be at the heart of the franchise, suggesting that the organisation really is a diverse intergalactic alliance of diverse alien species, rather than a union between Earth and Vulcan. More than that, the episode suggests that the individual members of the Federation might not exist in perfect harmony with one another, but may each operate with their own agenda and motivations.

However, what is really remarkable about Journey to Babel is how much of this unfolds in the background. All this world-building and -embellishing is very much a secondary concern for writer D.C. Fontana. Despite its scale and its scope, Journey to Babel is a decidedly personal story about a family in crisis. It works remarkably well, offering viewers a bit more insight into Spock as a character and where he came from.

Party on, Gav...

Party on, Gav…

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Star Trek (IDW, 2009) #15-16 – Mirrored (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The mirror universe is a fun concept.

Over the run of the franchise, quite divorced from the context of Mirror, Mirror, the mirror universe itself is an excuse to go big; to indulge in hammy and silly behaviour. There’s no need to worry about putting the toys back in the box, or even the general philosophy of the franchise as a whole. Appropriately enough, it becomes a place where you can do almost anything you might imagine with no real consequences. Writers get to do big space opera stuff, actors get to munch on the scenery.

All hail the empire...

All hail the empire…

There is a reason that the most giddy and indulgent fan service from the already giddy and fan-service-filled fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise was the two-parter set in the mirror universe. Indeed, Mirrored arguably borrows more from In a Mirror, Darkly than it does from Mirror, Mirror. The entire two-part story is launched from a casual conjectural conversation between Scotty and McCoy – suggesting that this might just be some flight of fancy. Indeed, the story cuts to the mirror universe as Scotty asks McCoy about “the worst timeline [he] can imagine.”

Mirrored is a very silly, very disposable story. It combines the weird fascination with alternate universes that runs through IDW’s monthly Star Trek series with the fixation on the events of JJ Abrams’ franchise-launching reboot. The result does not rank with the best mirror universe stories ever told, feeling too indulgent for its own good.

A cutting retort...

A cutting retort…

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Star Trek – Bread and Circuses (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Bread and Circuses is not subtle. Then again, that is the point.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Bread and Circuses, the fourteenth episode produced for the second season, but the last to air. There’s the idea of a world dominated by “a twentieth century Rome”, a rogue captain, a Prime Directive dilemma and a scathing indictment of modern television. Not only is it one of the last episodes with a “produced by Gene L. Coon” credit, it is also an episode co-written by Roddenberry and Coon. It is also the episode of Star Trek that endorses Christianity most explicitly and heavily.

"Wait, we're only getting it in black and white?"

“Wait, we’re only getting it in black and white?”

Bread and Circuses is a bold and audacious piece of television, full of venom and righteous anger, rich in satire and cynicism. It’s a plot so ridiculously over-stuffed with good ideas that viewers are liable to forgive the show’s somewhat cop-out ending where Kirk and his away team beam back to the Enterprise and continue on their merry way as though little has actually happened. Bread and Circuses feels like it uses every minute of its fifty-minute runtime wisely, balancing character with world-building.

It is probably a little bit too messy and disjointed to be labelled a dyed-in-the-wool classic, particularly when compared to the shows produced around it. Nevertheless, it is a decidedly ambitious piece of work, and one that demonstrates what Star Trek could do when it sets its mind to something.

When in Rome...

When in Rome…

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Star Trek: Mirror Universe – The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is a fairly significant lacuna in the internal chronology of the Star Trek universe, between the opening scene of Star Trek: Generations and Encounter at Farpoint. It is a fairly significant void that has only fleetingly been explored in various novels and comic books – most notably in Pocket Books’ intriguing Lost Era series. However, the lack of interest in this period is understandable. Not too much had changed between the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Starfleet was still Starfleet, the Enterprise was still a ship of exploration.

In contrast, much more happened between the last act of Mirror, Mirror and the teaser of Crossover. The Terran Empire had collapsed in on itself, replaced by a hostile alliance of Klingons and Cardassians. Humans were no longer masters of their domain, instead forced to exist as slaves or mercenaries or rebels. The universe of Mirror, Mirror had been brutal, but ordered; the world of Crossover was brutal and chaotic. Everything had changed in a rather fundamental way. An empire had died, the enemy had stormed the gates. Everything was wrong.

With The Sorrows of Empire, author David Mack begins a project to impose a clear structure on the mirror universe. Mack’s objective is essentially to stitch together a host of divergent (and perhaps even contradictory) continuity into a singular unifying narrative. The Sorrows of Empire was first published as a novella in the Glass Empires collection. However, his attempt to knit together the mirror universe as featured on the original show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise was quickly expanded into its own full-length novel.

Indeed, having tied those various threads together, Mack would then try to resolve them all, writing Rise Like Lions to help stitch The Soul Key into his tapestry while resolving a long-dangling piece of Star Trek continuity. The Sorrows of Empire is a fascinating read, and Herculean effort. Mack shares the same knack for blending continuity with narrative as writers like Keith R.A. DeCandido or Christopher L. Bennett. However, The Sorrow of Empires struggles to get around the fact that it is trying desperately to put together a jigsaw from mismatched pieces that were never meant to be combined.

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