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Non-Review Review: Jackie

…  there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot.

Towards the end of Jackie, the title character ruminates on her deceased husband. As a boy, he loved history. He especially loved the tales of Camelot. It does not matter that Camelot never existed, a figment of the collective imagination conjured into being through generations of myth and legend. People wanted to believe in Camelot, and so they invested it with a texture that seemed to manifest itself. Camelot was a story, but it was a story that was in many ways more appealing than the truth.

More like the Pastel House.

More like the Pastel House.

Jackie is a story about mythmaking. Arch and playful, self-aware and self-critical, Jackie tightens its focus on Jackie Onassis Kennedy to the days immediately following the death of her beloved husband. Using the iconic Time magazine interview as a framing device, Jackie follows its protagonist as she sets about building a legacy and a legend around John F. Kennedy. The lines between history and mythology blur, Jackie cleverly contrasting the title character’s restoration of the White House with her construction of her husband’s legend.

There are points at which Jackie seems a little too manner and a little too stage-managed, a little too perfect and a little too rehearsed. There are points at which Natalie Portman slips from being Jackie Onassis Kennedy playing the widow to a beloved legend to being Natalie Portman playing Jackie Onassis Kennedy playing the widow to a beloved legend. This sort of sly recursion is very much in fitting with the tone of the film, but it does occasionally feel a little too cold and a little too distant.

Mirrored in controversy.

Mirrored in controversy.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Ferengi Love Songs (Review)

Ferengi Love Songs has one really good joke. In the episode’s defence, it might just be a great joke.

The most striking moment in Ferengi Love Songs comes eight minutes into the episode. In fact, the teaser rushes along so fast that it feels like the production team were pushing for that moment to serve as the sting that would segue into the opening credits. Instead, it arrives during an otherwise short and indistinct first act, providing an effective ad break on syndication. Still, the image is strong enough that it lingers. The image is the sequence in Quark discovers that the Grand Nagus, the most powerful of Ferengi, is hiding in his closet.

Imagine me and you, I do, I think about you day and night, it's only right...

Imagine me and you, I do,
I think about you day and night, it’s only right…

It is a great comedy moment, in both concept and execution. The idea of the leader of a vast interstellar empire hiding in somebody’s bedroom is ridiculous in a way that Star Trek is very rarely ridiculous, at least during the Rick Berman era. It is very much a stock sit-com trope, except it has been dressed up in the trappings of a franchise that has a long record of taking itself incredibly seriously. There is an endearing absurdity to the gag that feels almost like the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine writers are affectionately poking fun at the franchise’s self-seriousness.

Even the execution of the joke works very well. Quark absent-mindedly opens his closet and puts his travel bag inside. The Grand Negus is waiting inside and accepts the bag that is offered. Quark closes the closet, and then does a double-take. He reopens the closet, at which point the Grand Nagus points out that Quark shouldn’t even be here. In a panic, Quark immediately grabs his bag and prepares to leave his house (and the planet) before he properly processes what has happened. “What’s the Nagus doing in my closet?”

He comes with a lot of baggage.

He comes with a lot of baggage.

It is a scene that might have been lifted from some forgotten thirties screwball comedy, which makes sense considering the interests of the Deep Space Nine production team. Rene Auberjonois directs the sequence in which to play into that absurdity, and Armin Shimerman proves quite game at delivering double-takes and exaggerated moments of realisation. It is a great gag, skilfully executed, that is brilliantly silly in the way that Deep Space Nine is not afraid to be.

The biggest problem with Ferengi Love Songs is the challenge of where it needs to go from that brilliant little gag. There is an interesting kernel of a story idea here, the writers’ obvious affection for these Ferengi characters shining through. Unfortunately, none of that fits with the tone of the episode’s central gag, which leads a plot that feels strangely dissonant as it tries to wring drama and conflict from the image of the Grand Nagus crouched over in Quark’s closet.

Strange bedfellows...

Strange bedfellows…

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Non-Review Review: Office Christmas Party

Office Christmas Party is a mess. Far from a carefully orchestrated festive frivolity, it feels more like it was quickly cobbled together from whatever happened to be lying around the staff canteen.

Office Christmas Party plays like a seasonal-themed pot luck; a combination of weird flavours that might work well in other contexts or on their own, only to clash awkwardly when thrown together. There is a mix-tape quality to the film, as is probably to be expected in a movie with a cast this expansive. However, Office Christmas Party never finds a centre around which it might arrange this particular tale. Instead, it feels like a half-hearted collection of mad-libs that have been shamelessly borrowed from other and better films.

No escape Claus...

No escape Claus…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Ties of Blood and Water (Review)

Ties of Blood and Water is a phenomenal piece of television, and a great example of the strengths of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It is an episode that is tied to the personal and the political, a thriller about great powers squaring off against one another set against the more intimate story of a woman nursing her surrogate father in the final hours of his life. Ties of Blood and Water is both intimate and epic, never sacrificing one for the other. Its larger political story beats feel entirely in keeping with the demands of the larger shared universe, but it never loses sight of the story’s emotional centre. There is a very personal aspect to this tale, one firmly grounded in the characters and their relationships.

The ties that bind.

The ties that bind.

Ties of Blood and Water focuses on Tekeny Ghemor, the Cardassian Legate featured in Second Skin. There, he was convinced that Kira was his daughter who had been sent to infiltrate the Shakaar Resistance. In Ties of Blood and Water, Ghemor returns to the station as the relationship turns a full circle. In Second Skin, Kira Nerys had been a surrogate daughter to Ghemor, standing in for the lost Iliana. In Ties of Blood and Water, Ghemor finds himself cast as a surrogate father to Kira, providing her with a means to work through the loss of her biological father.

Ties of Blood and Water has a certain poetry to it, extending beyond the memorable title.

Greener pastures.

Greener pastures.

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The 250, Episode #7 – Annie Hall (#205)

A nervous podcast.

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

Woody Allen’s iconic (and influential) romantic comedy portrays a tumultuous romantic relationship between cynical New York comedian Alvy Singer and the eponymous character, featuring an Oscar-winning performance from Diane Keaton.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 205th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

podcast-anniehall

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Star Trek: Voyager – Before and After (Review)

Before and After is an episode that should be more interesting than it ultimately is.

There is no small irony in the fact that the one future constant suggested by Before and After would be gone by the third episode of the following season, while the generic tone of the episode’s future flashes would prove entirely accurate. In some ways, Voyager was a paradox. It was generally quite professional and sleek, the show’s polished exterior seeming a little too lifeless and sterile at times. However, this was all an elaborate and well-rehearsed illusion. Behind the scenes, Voyager was a turbulent and chaotic piece of television.

voy-beforeandafter22a

Those conversations and would tweak some of the future suggested by Before and After. Jennifer Lien would depart, and Kes would be retired. Jeri Ryan would be hired, and Seven of Nine would join the crew. Much like what had happened with Deep Space Nine, the planned third season cliffhanger would be thwarted and pushed into the fourth season to make way for a much more bankable story. On Deep Space Nine, Homefront and Paradise Lost were shunted for The Way of the Warrior. On Voyager, Year of Hell, Part I would be brushed aside for Scorpion, Part I.

At the same time, it was clear that Paramount was wary and uncertain of what the future might hold for the franchise. Viewing figures had begun a decline that would continue until the end of Enterprise. The writers on Deep Space Nine had been instructed by the studio to add an existing character and focus on the Klingons early in their fourth season, hoping to shore up viewers. Similar discussions were taking place behind the scenes on Voyager, with the network and producers looking to spice things up on the series.

voy-beforeandafter35a Continue reading

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 2, Episode 8 (“One Breath”)

Just a quick link to another recent guest appearance over on The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the prolific Tony Black.

In my final appearance on the show’s second season, I had the pleasure of an extended conversation with Tony about One Breath. Readers of the blog will know that One Breath is (along with Never Again) one of my absolute favourite episodes of the show, so it was an honour and a privilege to be invited to talk about it on the show. We got to talk about all sorts of fun things, from Mister X’s grouchy demeanour to performative masculinity to just how carefully Walter Skinner sets up his stylish dead drops. Check it out the episode here, or click the link below.

podcast-onebreath

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