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93. Reservoir Dogs (#76)

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

This time, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Following a disastrous botched jewellery heist, what remains of a criminal gang meets at an abandoned warehouse. Unsure of who to trust and unable to determine what went wrong, these violent men quickly turn on one another while navigating a complex web of shifting loyalties.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 76th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“The Things You Gotta Remember Are the Details”: Reservoir Dogs and the Fragility of Memory and Meaning in the Nineties…

It’s always interesting to understand how much of being one of the defining artists of a cultural moment is down to understanding the zeitgeist, and how much of it is down to simply being in the right place at the right time.

This is not to denigrate the incredible skill and talent required to be perfectly positioned “in the right place at the right time”, as any amount of sustained success requires both a great deal of determination and an incredible amount of talent. Quentin Tarantino is undeniably determined and impressively talented. Tarantino has a unique knack with dialogue, a keen understanding of genre, and a fine appreciation of the history the medium. It is hard to imagine a world in which Tarantino would ever have been unable to parlay those skills into some form of success in filmmaking.

Still, there are very few directors who were so perfectly in step with the nineties as Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is a writer and director who emerged almost fully formed, to the point that many critics and pundits would argue that his first two films are the best films in his filmography; Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. (As an aside, there are a not-insignificant number of pundits who would argue that Tarantino’s best film was his third, the underrated Jackie Brown.) It seems fair to describe Tarantino, however controversial his legacy and however divisive his modern films might be, as a defining nineties filmmaker.

(As an aside, it should be acknowledged that Tarantino arguably had something of a similar moment towards the end of the first decade and into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are films that have generated a lot of polarised debate, but they also seemed very much on-the-pulse in terms of the tensions and anxieties that bubbled to the surface of American popular consciousness at towards the end of the twenty-tens. However, that is perhaps a debate for another time.)

Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction speaks specifically to a collection of nineties anxieties and uncertainties that seem only to have crystalised in retrospect, as if working through an existential crisis that the decade didn’t realise it was having in real time. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fictions are stories about memory and meaning, and how fleeting the human understanding of a chaotic world can be. They are stories about the breakdown of social order, and of trying to find some way to navigate increasingly turbulent and unstable times.

They are films that embody the tensions of nineties as effectively as Forrest Gump or the films of Oliver Stone or Chris Carter’s work on The X-Files and Millennium.

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Non-Review Review: The Meg

The Meg is proof that bigger is not always better.

There are moments when The Meg works beautifully, the film embracing its ridiculous concept by going all-in on a couple of absurdly heightened images. There are a number of shots in The Meg, particularly towards the climax, that are gleefully and unapologetically “too much.” It would undercut these moments to discuss them in any great detail in a review of the film, particularly since they are the moments when everything in the film seems to click into place. In these beats, there is a reckless abandon, as if the film understands the appeal of “Jason Statham in Jurassic Shark.”

Lifeboats find a way.

Unfortunately, these moments serve to highlight what is missing from so much of the rest of the film. The Meg is a movie committed to the idea of “more”, but is more invested in promise than in delivery. Everything in The Meg happens at breakneck pace, to the point where the first act of the film might make a compelling blockbuster on its own terms, given room to breath. However, like the sea-faring predator that inspired it, The Meg is eager to get to the next thing and the next thing after that. The result is a movie that feels rushed, but never urgent.

The Meg is so busy trying to heighten its stakes and its scale that it never quite manages to establish them.

Don’t bait him!

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 21 (“The Die is Cast”)

Following on from my look at Improbable Cause with Wes and Clay, I return to The Pensky Podcast to take a look at the unlikely second part of the two-part story.

We talk about “epic” storytelling on Star Trek, and the shifting of focus away from the Federation, as well as the internal politics of the Cardassians and the Romulans. We also talk about the unique strand of liberal humanism that runs through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the tragedy of so many of its alien characters who unable to ever go home again.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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“Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films” Available for Pre-Order

I am thrilled to announce my new book, Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films. I announced it at the end of The 250 episode covering Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

I’ve been working on this for more than a year at this point, and am very excited to be able to share. The idea is to present a broad and accessible examination of the iconic director’s first ten films, looking at his work, his craft and his recurring thematic occupations. The goal is to illuminate one of the defining directors of the twenty-first century, a film-maker who has shaped the medium as we understand it today by combining deeply personal narratives with old-fashioned crowd-pleasing storytelling.

The book is currently scheduled for release late in the year, but you can pre-order it now from various online retailers. It’s a book that I’ve worked very hard on, and one that I am very proud of. If you can support it, whether by pre-ordering it or asking your local library to stock it or even just by sharing word about it online, it would mean a great deal to me.

It’s the second book that I’ve written with McFarland Press, who also published my last book Opening the X-Files, which took a look at the work of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen on the era-defining series The X-Files and other related projects. They’ve been incredibly supportive of my work, and were a wonderful collaborator once again. Anyway, thanks again for your time, and I’ll hopefully have some more Nolan-related content on here leading up to the release.

If you want to support the book by pre-ordering it, here are the links to the places where you can purchase it at present:

92. The Prestige (#49)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

On the cusp of the twentieth century, an obsession brews between two magicians. Alfred Borden and Robert Angier compete to surpass one another on the London stage; lives will be lost, illusions will be shattered, and reality itself might fray along the edges.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 49th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Imperfection (Review)

With Imperfection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager can begin in earnest.

After all, Unimatrix Zero, Part II was the second-half of the almost-obligatory season-bridging two-parter, the conclusion to Unimatrix Zero, Part I. As the second episode of a two-parter, the season premiere had been written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. Those two writers would be mostly absent from the final season. After a decade of contributions dating back to include Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Joe Menosky was taking a break from the franchise. Meanwhile, Brannon Braga was busy working with Rick Berman on the upcoming launch of Star Trek: Enterprise.

The episode never really gets inside Seven’s head.

As such, Imperfection is an episode that is much more indicative of the seventh season of Voyager. It offers a much more concrete example of what Voyager will look like during the final stretch of the journey home. It reflects the tone and aesthetic of Voyager under its latest showrunner, with Kenneth Biller stepping into the role that Brannon Braga had vacated to plan for Enterprise. While Imperfection is still very much a product of the same show that had broadcast The Haunting of Deck Twelve or Life Line, there is something subtly different within it.

Of course, Imperfection isn’t really the start of the seventh season. It was the fourth episode of the seventh season to be produced, following Drive and Repression. It was just awkwardly bumped up the broadcast order, resulting a variety of glaringly obvious continuity issues that the production team never even bother to acknowledge. Of itself, this suggests the tone that is being set for the seventh season.

Some cheek.

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