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Black Mirror – Black Museum (Review)

One of the more interesting aspects of Black Mirror‘s migration from Channel 4 to Netflix has been the subtle shift from British science-fiction horror towards American science-fiction horror.

The two episodes bookending the fourth season – USS Callister and Black Museum – exemplify this trend, episodes that would seemed very out of place when Black Mirror was “just” a quirky British anthology. USS Callister is obviously steeped in the iconography of a very American science-fiction institution, and while its male entitlement is not a uniquely American experience, that attitude has been more firmly tied into modern American politics than to  contemporary British politics.

Black Museum is even more overtly American, to the point that even the lead character’s British accent is revealed as a sham. The episode opens with a montage that practically screams “Americana!”, a big American car driving through a big American desert, a long stretch of road dwarfed by a seemingly infinite stretch of nothing, where even the jutting mountains provide a sense of impressive scale. Black Museum is set in the mythological America, a country so large that it occasionally seems to be nothing but nooks and crannies, populated with curiousities and eccentricities.

Black Museum unfolds within one such curiousity, a macabre collection of the grotesque and the ghoulish, a twenty-first century freak show run by a twenty-first century P.T. Barnum. However, over the course of the hour, the shape of Black Museum comes into focus. This is not merely a story embracing American trappings, it is also engaging with a distinctly American horror. Slowly, over the course of seventy minutes, Black Museum reveals itself as a science-fiction allegory about the exploitation of African American bodies and African American suffering; one of America’s original sins.

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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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American Nightmares, Part I: Old Frontiers… (The Revenant/The Hateful Eight)

Trying something new. Or rather something old. Been a while since we published an old-fashioned thinkpiece on here, and been thinking a lot about America as filtered through film in 2015-2016. We’ll be publishing a series of these articles in the coming week. If you’d like to see more of this sort of content, please comment or share or facebook or tweet, so we know you like it.

The United States of America is a relatively young country.

Like all other countries, it has its own history and mythology. As with many of those countries, that history and mythology intertwine. The European settlers may have inherited some of that mythology from their ancestors across the Atlantic or appropriated some from the indigenous population, but a lot of that history and mythology was cultivated wholesale. The American Dream. Manifest Destiny. The idea that this was a wild continent to be tamed through the sheer strength of will of those rugged early settlers.

westerns9

Britain has knights. Ireland has rebels. America has cowboys. It is tempting to look upon these archetypal mythic figures as something far removed from the modern day, something so far in the distant past that they may never have existed as all. Particularly given the historical decline of the western genre in recent decades, it is easy to consider the cowboy a historical artifact covered in centuries of dust and disconnected from the modern world. Billy the Kid does not seem so far removed from King Arthur, Wyatt Earp from Brian Boru.

Of course, the reality is much more complicated. The overlap between the history and mythology is striking; these stories seemed to be mythologised before they were allowed to fad into history. The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903, and generally considered to be the first cinematic western. Although past its prime, the era of the American frontier was still in progress. Oklahoma would only become a state in 1907, with Arizona and New Mexico would become states in 1912. There is a sense that the country was still forming as the mythology coalesced.

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The X-Files – Nothing Important Happened Today II (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Of course, the ninth season was broadcast in a radically different world than the eighth season.

Nothing Important Happened Today I was broadcast early in November 2001, less than two months after hijackers commandeered control of several airline jets and sent them crashing into various American landmarks. The attacks upon the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon changed the world in a way that very few events can claim. History can be comfortably divided into “before 9/11” and “after 9/11”, a rare marker of cultural significance generally reserved for events like World Wars.

World on fire...

World on fire…

Tom Brokow has argued that 9/11 was “when the twenty-first century truly began.” Anne-Marie Slaughter argued that 9/11 was “the defining event of the new millennium.” Phillip E. Wegner suggested that 9/11 represented the end of “the long nineties” that had begun with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that 9/11 changed absolutely everything. It defined American foreign policy for over a decade after the fact, cemented a culture of anxiety and surveillance, cast an incredibly long shadow over world culture and politics.

Over two-and-a-half thousand people were killed on 9/11. Estimates suggest that up to twenty-one thousand civilians and more than two thousand American troops died during the War in Afghanistan. Studies suggest that up to half a million Iraqis have died of war-related causes and nearly four-and-a-half thousand American troops have died during the Iraq War. These are just the losses that can be tangibly measured; it is to say nothing of the lives caught in ripple effects and unforeseen (or foreseeable) consequences.

Shining a light on what happened...

Shining a light on what happened…

It is very cavalier and insensitive to suggest that The X-Files was a victim of 9/11 in any real sense. With everything else going on in the wake of 9/11, the cancellation of a television show means nothing. The cancellation of a show (even a popular show) is not even a footnote in any account of how the world changed. It is entirely reasonable to argue that The X-Files might have been cancelled even if 9/11 never happened. The show was nine years old, and had just lost one of its two leads. It was entirely possible that the show could never have recovered from that anyway.

Still, The X-Files was a show indelibly and undeniably anchored in the context of the nineties. It was a show that tapped into the zeitgeist in that historical lacuna following the end of the Cold War, when there were no more enemies to fight and where there was room for introspection and reflection about government authority. By the start of the ninth season, the show’s cultural moment had passed.

A Doggett lead...

A Doggett lead…

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The X-Files – Theef (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Theef is an underrated seventh season episode, one often forgotten and overlooked as season seven moves firmly into its second half.

The episode represents another conscious attempt to get “back to basics.” Continuing the vein of Hungry or Millennium or Orison or Signs and Wonders, the script for Theef hopes to prove that the show can still produce a genuinely scary hour of television in its seventh season. It certainly succeeds; Theef is a delightfully unsettling story, one that borders on the downright nasty. From the closing shot of the teaser – a body suspended from a chandelier with the word “Theef” scrawled on a wall in his own blood – Theef goes for the jugular.

"I think he's trying to tell you something."

“I think he’s trying to tell you something.”

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The X-Files (Topps) #25-26 – Be Prepared (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

What’s interesting about Be Prepared is how much it feels like an episode of The X-Files.

A lot Rozum’s earlier scripts felt like Mulder and Scully had wandered into old E.C. horror stories, cautionary supernatural tales about vengeful ghosts and poetic justice. In contrast, Be Prepared feels very much in tune with the aesthetic of the show itself. Mulder and Scully investigate a uniquely American piece of folklore, finding themselves in an isolated location dealing with human monstrosity at least as much as any paranormal element.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

Indeed, Be Prepared feels very much like an episode from the first two seasons of the show, evoking stories like Ice or Darkness Falls or Firewalker. Indeed, Be Prepared arguably sits comfortably alongside Topps’ range of Season One comics – feeling like a lost episode from the show’s early years. Be Prepared feels like the first time that Rozum is constructing a story specifically from tropes associated with The X-Files, rather than from horror tropes in general.

The result is a fun little adventure that feels more like The X-Files than the comic has in quite a while.

The right to bear arms...

The right to bear arms…

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Millennium – The Wild and the Innocent (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The Wild and the Innocent is an ambitious piece of television.

It is not a piece of television that works as well as it might, the execution of the central ideas leaving a little to be desired, but it is an episode that commits whole heartedly to something unique. In I Want to Believe, Robert Shearman refers to The Wild and the Innocent as “a plot more suited to Cormac McCarthy than Chris Carter.” He’s not wrong. The Wild and the Innocent is a story about cycles of violence and abuse in the American south, a grim road movie with some very harsh conclusions about the way that the world works.

That sinking feeling...

That sinking feeling…

It still fits within the milieu of Millennium. After all the classic “serial killer road movie” is still a serial killer story, and Millennium has already carved out that niche for itself. However, the image of Frank Black and Peter Watts following a trail of bodies from Missouri down through Arkansas suggests a different show than the one that has been airing since The Pilot. In many respects – with its heavy philosophical voice-over, its country-tinged soundtrack, its fixation on the outlaw couple – The Wild and the Innocent feels almost like some old American folk tale.

There’s something decidedly old-fashioned here, with the episode playing more like a western than a police procedural. In the documentary Order in Chaos, Carter described Frank Black as character from a story “like Shane, like any cowboy, any good movie, Western movie.” As such, he fits in quite comfortably with this new type of story.

Road warrior...

Road warrior…

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