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Non-Review Review: Animals

Animals lacks any real bite.

At its core, Animals is the story of the unhealthy relationship that exists between Laura and Tyler. Laura is a Dublin girl, with close ties to her extended family. Tyler is an American abroad, a young woman who seems to be running as far away from her family as possible. A chance encounter on a night out brought the two together in their twenties, and they have since become inseparable. Laura lives with Tyler in her lavish city centre apartment, while Tyler is a welcome guest at all of Laura’s family gatherings. The two seem to share a single life.

Putting the matter to bed.

Naturally, that relationship has begun to strain and fray as the women enter their thirties – Laura is about two years older than her best friend, while Tyler’s thirtieth birthday is a significant event in the context of the film. Laura seems to want to move on, to embrace adulthood and responsibility; she courts a young professional pianist named Jim and tries desperately to work on the novel she’s been picking over for the last decade. Tyler pushes back against this, terrified at the prospect that her best friend might leave her behind to wallow in her own hedonistic insecurities.

Animals is too generic to make a meaningful impression. Its major character and narrative beats are all helpfully signposted from the get-go, its destination obvious from the end of the first few scenes. However, there’s not enough substance present to justify that sense of inevitability, the leisurely-paced journey towards a foregone conclusion that hits every expected plot point and character moment along the way. Animals feels very much like every other “young person has a life crisis and has to find a way to be comfortable with themselves” narrative of the past decade, with little to distinguish it.

At home on the (G)rainger.

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Non-Review Review: Luce

Luce is a compelling dialogue-driven thriller, anchored in a set of impressive performances and a meaty script.

At its core, Luce is a study of integration and idealism. It touches on the question of identity, that established by an individual and that imposed by the people around them. Luce derives its title and its tension from its lead character, a promising young African American student. Adopted by an upper-middle class white couple and rescued from his past as a child soldier, Luce has become an exemplar. He is an all-star debater, an impressive academic student, a successful athlete. He is loved by both the faculty and his fellow students. To hear the other characters talk about him, Luce is just about perfect.

Getting schooled.

Naturally, Luce challenges that idea. Luce invites the audience to wonder whether the title character really is everything that everybody else believes him to be. More than that, the film interrogates why so many people seem to need Luce to be an exemplar. The film is a fraught push-and-pull as questions are raised about Luce. When the honours student turns in an inflammatory essay and when fireworks with the explosive power of a shotgun are found in his locker, the characters around Luce find themselves asking if they understand the teenager, or if they ever could.

The result is a tense and claustrophobic drama, as the characters navigating these accusations and insinuations try to constantly reconfigure their understanding of the title character. It’s a remarkable push-and-pull, elevated by some very potent themes and a wealth of strong performances.

Keeping track.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Homestead (Review)

Homestead represents the culmination of certain impulses within Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, some of those impulses were baked into the show from the outset. The end of Caretaker immediately and effectively established the central premise of the series. Voyager was to be a story about a crew trying to get “home.” Of course, the question of what “home” actually meant was always up for debate. Perhaps “home” could be the unlikely bond that this crew formed with one another, a strange alliance of misfits who found a way to belong together in a way they never could apart; the idea of “home” at the heart of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for example.

“Home.”

However, over the following seven seasons, the idea of “home” came into sharp focus. “Home” was not so much about finding an abstract place where a person might belong. “Home” was about returning to a point of origin. “Home” was a not place that could be created or developed, it was a nostalgic ideal. “Home” was not somewhere that could be found on “the final frontier.” In fact, it was the exact opposite. It was a fixed place that was (by definition) as far from the frontier as possible. This theme was heavily articulated in the show’s seventh and final season.

Of course, this very narrow and rigid definition of “home” creates a problem for one member of the cast. Voyager repeatedly and consciously assumes that all of its cast belong in the Alpha Quadrant, because they originated there. It does not matter that Tom Paris never fit in at home, or that the Maquis characters never integrated into Starfleet. It does not matter that Seven of Nine cannot remember Earth. These characters are going back to their point of origin, because that is what “home” means. What, then, of Neelix? How does Neelix get to go “home”?

“Home.”

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Non-Review Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain places a prestige veneer on the weirdness of the recent “man’s best friend” tear-jerker subgenre.

A Dog’s Journey and A Dog’s Purpose were a rough-and-ready example of the genre, films exploring the complicated world of human beings through the simple mind of a dog. There was an almost endearing clumsiness to how ruthlessly those films targeted the audience’s emotional vulnerability; A Dog’s Purpose used the gimmick of reincarnation as a narrative “get out of jail free” card, making a point to kill off its canine protagonist no fewer than three times, understanding this as a shortcut to the audience’s tear ducts.

“It’s about the good walk,
And the hard walk…
… It’s a beautiful ride.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a more prestigious product, executed with greater craft. That doesn’t mean that The Art of Racing in the Rain is any less surreal or eccentric than other entries in the subgenre, nor should it imply that The Art of Racing in the Rain has pushed that subgenre beyond the underlying assumptions that the bodily functions of a dog are hilarious. Instead, the polished exterior of The Art of Racing in the Rain is all about execution as opposed to content. The film makes the same points in the same ways, but shifts its tone to approximate sophistication.

The results are no less uncanny for that attempt at sophistication. If anything, The Art of Racing in the Rain feels all the weirder for how it juxtaposes the sillier and goofier “talking animal movie” tropes with the sensibilities of more earnest fare. The Art of Racing in the Rain is aggressive and merciless in its attempt to conjure up an emotional response to its over-extended central metaphor, but the film’s surreality lingers much longer.

Thinks are looking pup.

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141. Escape Plan 2: Hades – This Just In (-#100)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Babu Patel and Giovanna Rampazzo, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 100 worst movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Steven C. Miller’s Escape Plan 2: Hades.

At time of recording, it was ranked 100th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 4, Episode 15 (“Kaddish”)

Always a delight to stop by The X-Cast again. This time discussing a (relatively) underrated fourth season installment, Kaddish with the fantastic Russell Hugo.

Kaddish exists at a very weird point in the fourth season of The X-Files. It arrives following a blockbuster run of episodes, including Leonard Betts, Never Again and Memento Mori. Those are big episodes in the context of the show’s larger run the kind of stories that people have very strong opinions about. Kaddish follows those episodes, and so tends to be overlooked. In fact, it explicitly avoids dealing with any of the fallout from those episodes, at least directly. However, on its own terms, it’s a very lyrical and abstract story, a tale that is perhaps more timely now than when it was broadcast, a gothic fairy tale that hints at the big themes of the stories around it: about life, love, mortality, and loss. It’s beautiful in its own intimate way.

As ever, you can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 1, Episode 14 (“The Thin White Line”)

As ever, a delight to stop by The Time is Now to talk about Millennium, this week with the estimable Christopher Knowles.

This week, I got to show how deep my love was for The Thin White Line, the last episode of the first season to be penned by James Wong and Glen Morgan. As with Force Majeure, this is one of my favourite episodes of the first season. It is interesting, because it’s also one of the last “serial killer of the week” stories in the season. It is also among the very best of that subgenre, and deals thematically with ideas that the show will explore in the season ahead.

This was a fun, broad discussion. As ever, you can listen to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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