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45. Paris, Texas (#241)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT, with the occasional weekend off.

This time, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas

Four years after mysteriously disappearing, Travis wanders out of the desert and back into the lives of his family. Adapting to the outside world, Travis embarks upon a journey across America to bring together the shattered remains of his past life.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 241st best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Changing Face of Evil (Review)

The arrival of the Breen in the final stretch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pays off one of the longest recurring gags of the Michael Piller era.

The Breen are one of the most intriguing races in the largerĀ Star Trek canon, first established as part of the mythos during the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Breen very assembled from a variety of little snippets of conversation over the next few years. The Loss established that the Breen were impervious to telepathy. Elogium implied that the Breen reproduced at a young age, and confirmed that they were known as a warlike species. They were suspects in the attack on the Vico in Hero Worship and on the Amargosa Observatory in Star Trek: Generations.

Things come apart.

The Breen would pop up time and again in dialogue, sketching out a bizarre culture. Their athletes were discussed in Interface. Their privateers were a threat dealt with off-screen in To the Death. Their nursery rhymes were a source of interest in For the Uniform. Their organic technology was mentioned in Scorpion, Part I. By the time that the Breen appeared on screen in Indiscretion, during the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, their status as an in-joke was confirmed. They were covered head-to-toe, dressed like Leia in Star Wars – Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi.

As such, the Breen are a rather strange choice to play such a crucial role in this late stage of the game, stepping into the Dominion War with only ten episodes left in Deep Space Nine. When they capture Ezri and Worf in Penumbra, their connection to the larger arc is unclear. Their plans to ally with the Dominion are only confirmed at the end of ‘Til Death Do Us Part. After a lot of teasing in Strange Bedfellows, it is The Changing Face of Evil that reveals the Breen to be something of a game-changer in the larger context of the Dominion War, easily retaking Chin’toka.

Battlefield Earth.

On paper, a lot of this is a transparent attempt on the part of the writers to move the story along. The Breen serve a number of clear narrative purposes, from escalating the stakes in the conflict between the Dominion and the Federation through to providing some more motivation for Damar’s betrayal of the Dominion. Tellingly, both of these threads pay off in The Changing Face of Evil, an episode that arrives at almost the half-way point in this sprawling galactic epic.

The incorporation of the Breen into the Dominion War is not particularly elegant. The introduction of a new alien species into the mix this late in the plot, with the clear intention of increasing the severity of the threat and to motivating the supporting cast to action, is a very clumsy piece of writing. However, Deep Space Nine just about manages to get away with it because the Breen don’t feel like a new alien species. Although they were never intended to serve this particularly purpose, they have been around long enough that they are part of the texture of the Star Trek universe.

For Cardassia.

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Non-Review Review: Maze

Maze is a gritty well-constructed psychological thriller, documenting the famous escape of thirty-eight inmates from the eponymous prison in 1983.

Written and directed by Stephen Burke, focuses its attention on two central characters who serve as opposite sides of the same coin. Larry Marley is a veteran member of the IRA, who survived hunger strike and is looked for a cause around which he might rally the movement. Gordon Close is the warden in charge of maintaining order in a prison packed with murderers and terrorists. Both men are trapped, whether by iron bars, concrete walls or political ideology.

Burke infuses Maze with a powerful cynicism, a clear frustration and contempt for a cycle of violence and hatred that perpetuates itself. The prison environment becomes a metaphor for the world created by the authorities and paramilitaries, a climate in which both sides serve as wardens and prisoners, ensuring that nobody is ever truly free. Maze is constructed as a very sterile film, largely desaturated, with Burke keeping the camera steady and often at a distance.

Maze is perhaps a little bit too conventional in places, a little too anchored in the routine expected from a prison break film and a little heavy-handed in its symbolism and thematic ruminations. While Burke avoids getting drawn into either side of this battle of wills, resisting the urge to glamourise or romanticise the escapees, there are points at which Maze feels a little too straightforward, trapped by the expectations of this sort of narrative. Still, the result is a thoughtful and well put-together film.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Juggernaut (Review)

Juggernaut is not a great episode of television.

The episode has any number of key problems. Most obviously, the episode illustrates how little the character of B’Elanna Torres has actually grown since Parallax, without even pausing to acknowledge everything that has happened in between in episodes like Extreme Risk. More than that, the episode’s core themes are undermined by an incredibly cynical conclusion that might work in the context of a larger character arc, but which doesn’t work when rooted in the series’ episodic approach to storytelling.

Calm under pressure.

However, in spite of all these fundamental flaws that hobble Juggernaut as a piece of television narrative, there is quite a lot to like here. This is very pointed a big “action” story told in blockbuster mode, evoking episodes like Timeless. It is all about broad strokes, ticking clocks and epic stakes. Juggernaut is fundamentally a runaway train story crossed with The Phantom of the Opera, which is almost perfectly within the show’s comfort zone. More than that, Juggernaut actually figures out how to do something vaguely interesting with the Malon before they disappear.

Juggernaut is a highly enjoyable episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Here there be monsters…

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Non-Review Review: Kingsman – The Golden Circle

If Kingsman captured the nastiness of the early Roger Moore Bond movies, then Kingsman: The Golden Circle emulates the indulgent bloat of the later Roger Moore installments.

Part of the appeal of Kingsman was that it captured (and laid bare) the inherent ugliness running beneath the surface of the early Roger Moore movies, films like Live and Let Die or The Man With the Golden Gun. In many respects, Kingsman felt like a Roger Moore Bond movie that was acutely aware of how awful it was, willing to be transparent in its unpleasantness; whether in its sexual politics, in its casual violence, in its portrayal of individuals with disabilities. Kingsman took a lot of the sheen of nostalgia off those Sunday afternoon actioners, and revelled in the dissonance.

The Golden Circle is nowhere near as sharp and pointed. Instead, in its indulgence evokes the overstuffed and bloated feeling of the late Roger Moore films, of movies like Moonraker, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. Indeed, The Golden Circle seems coyly aware of that. What point could there be in casting Halle Berry in the thankless role of a member of an American counterpart to the eponymous British organisation, except to consciously nod towards Die Another Day, the belated tribute to the late Moore era?

The Golden Circle is a mess of a sequel, a film so in love with itself that it seems genuinely indifferent to anybody watching from audience.

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Non-Review Review: The Ritual

The Ritual is a fairly conventional horror movie that is slightly elevated by a number of nice touches.

The Ritual is pretty predictable piece of horror, at least in the broad strokes. A group of friends set out on an international adventure together, tracking into the wild. The group is tied together by a common loss, but there are all manner of silent (and not so silent) resentments simmering beneath the surface. Journeying to Sweden, the quartet embark upon a hike into the wilderness. When fate intervenes, and forces them to cut their trip short, they make a choice to take a turn off the beaten track. They quickly come to regret that particular decision.

The Ritual belongs to a familiar genre of modern horror, the tale of adult friends who wander off into the wilderness and find themselves confronted by something primal and horrific; The Descent, The Blair Witch, Cabin Fever. Of course, these are all the descendants of classic horror movies offering similar warnings about daring to wander off the beaten track; The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There is very little in the basic form of The Ritual that will catch many audience members off-guard, even in the jump scares.

The Ritual is elevated by technique, by attention to detail from writer Joe Barton and director David Bruckner. The Ritual never catches the audience off guard by zigging when one might expect it to zag, but it occasionally teases the possibility of zigging. There are any number of little touches that charm, minor subversions of horror movie conventions that enrich the more predictable beats. The film looks impressive, is paced nicely, and is very well cast. While none of this allows The Ritual to transcend its more stock qualities, it does add up to a well-made film.

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Non-Review Review: Home Again

Home Again is an attempt at a classic screwball comedy where anything resembling a hard edge has been softened to a smooth felt.

Writer and director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is clearly hoped to construct an old-school Hollywood farce, centring on a relatively recently singled mother who finds her world turned upside down when three handsome young strangers move into her guest house down the end of her garden. Naturally, Alice Kinney cannot anticipate how quickly these three young aspiring film makers will disrupt her family life, but the situation quickly escalates in a relatively unthreatening manner.

Home Again has a solid premise and a charmingly committed performance from Reese Witherspoon, but the movie feels far too gentle to really work. There is something strangely bloodless about Home Again, which means that the movie often struggles to get its own pulse racing. There is a sense that Home Again is far too worried about the possibility of offending anyone, even its own characters. Home Again is a film full of selfish, shortsighted and manipulative characters, but it never allows them to embrace those qualities in a way that might threaten the happy ending.

Home Again feels far too comfortable in itself to really work.

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