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Non-Review Review: Ready Player One

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Reader Player One is a very curious piece of cinema. It is an incredibly flawed piece of work, with a lot of its flaws so fundamental that they are threaded into the very architecture of the film. Screenwriter Zak Penn has offered a very thorough and involved reinvention of Ernest Cline’s source novel, a ground-up renovation of Cline’s catalogue of popular culture references and collection of narrative tropes. Indeed, Penn’s screenplay improves a great deal on the novel that inspired it; junking and reworking entire sequences, bulking up supporting characters, trying to find a beating human heart.

Worlds apart.

More than that, Ready Player One provides Spielberg with the opportunity to go “all out.” There is a sense watching Ready Player One that Spielberg has approached the film not as a collection of popular culture references and in-jokes, but instead as an attempt to reconnect with a younger audience. Whether or not Reader Player One is the right source material for such an attempt, there is no denying Spielberg’s energy and vigour. Ready Player One is a dynamic piece of film, Spielberg demonstrating all the technique for which he is known, but with an enthusiasm that puts younger directors to shame.

However, there is no escaping the biggest issue with the film remains its source material. The problem with Ready Player One as a film is that it is an adaptation of Ready Player One as a novel.

Back to the past.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast Season 11 #35 – Barbara Beaumont and the Cult (“Nothing Lasts Forever”)

The second of three podcasts looking at the penultimate episode of what might be the final season of The X-Files, Nothing Lasts Forever.

Once again chatting with Carl Sweeney, this time we discuss the “monster of the week”, washed up immortal sixties starlet Barbara Beaumont and the cult that she has built around herself. Along the way, we discuss other supporting characters like Juliet and Doctor Luvenis, along with constructing a twenty-first century vampire story.

We’ll be back tomorrow talking about the combination of writer Karen Neilsen and director James Wong. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the episode. Click here, or check it out below.

Non-Review Review: Dawson City – Frozen Time

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

In 1978, the city of Dawson was demolishing an old ice rink to make room for a new recreational centre. During the demolition, the construction crews stumbled on something remarkable. Reels and canisters of films buried in the old swimming book, sealed away and forgotten about. This was a treasure trove for cinema historians, the unearthing of a collection that included films that had been presumed lost to history. It represented a tangible and literal connection to the rich history of cinema and – through that – to the history of American popular culture.

Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time is a documentary looking at this archeological discovery, but it is also so much more. Using footage taken from the recovered films, and from other contemporaneous materials, Morrison takes the audience on a trip through the cultural history of the eponymous settlement, from its origins at the end of the nineteenth century through to the unearthing of these nitrate film reels in the late seventies. The result is a beautiful and compelling exhumation of something much more than those invaluable and long-considered lost silent films.

Morrison weaves a fascinating and compelling narrative that seems to tie all of this together into a convincing and expansive social history. The result is a documentary with startling ambition and scope, in some ways reflecting the approach taken by those earliest of settlers panning for gold in the Yukon territory. Dawson City follows both the social evolution of the settlement and occasionally digresses to follow some of its most important inhabitants. Some of these digressions introduce players who will return to the narrative later in the film, both others suggest a broader social context for the film.

Dawson City is occasionally just a little bit too unfocused for its own good, casting its net just a little bit too wide to bring everything back together for an otherwise satisfying finale. Nevertheless, Dawson City is a powerful ode to a community and to cinematic history, one with big ideas and provocative insights.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Dogs of War (Review)

The Dogs of War is the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

As such, it has lots of important things to be doing. The episode’s primary function is to streamline the ongoing narratives so that they might all neatly feed into What You Leave Behind. The goal of any penultimate episode is to set up the shot so that the finale might punt the ball into the goal, in a manner that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Given that The Dogs of War is arriving towards the end of a seven-season series, a two-year war story, and a ten-episode closing arc, that is a lot of setting up to be done.

The best is Yates to come.

There is a lot of work to be done on paper. The plot thread focusing on the Pah-Wraiths has been dangling since When It Rains…, the Federation has not reengaged with the Breen since the disastrous encounter at the end of The Changeling Face of Evil, and Bajor hasn’t even mentioned the possibility of joining the Federation since Rapture or In the Cards. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense of The Dogs of War to focus on getting Bashir and Dax together while Quark thinks he is about to be Nagus as Damar is forced to hide in a cellar.

However, there is something inherently charming about how The Dogs of War chooses to prioritise threads over story beats that might seem more relevant or important, to dedicate a sizable chunk of the penultimate episode of Deep Space Nine to tying up a clumsy “will they?”/“won’t they?” romance and telling one last Ferengi story. The Dogs of War is an episode that speaks to what Deep Space Nine was, both in terms is esoteric plotting and its skewed-but-optimistic outlook. There might be better ways to wind down a series, but this is very Deep Space Nine.

Love in a turbolift.

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Doctor Who: Oxygen (Review)

Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.

– the Doctor about sums it up

In space, EVERYONE can hear you scream…

Oxygen plays very much like a companion piece to Thin Ice earlier in the season. Both are essentially stories about monstrous capitalism, from nineteenth century London through to the depths of outer space.

Indeed, Oxygen pitches itself as something akin to a late seventies or early eighties science-fiction film, in terms of aesthetic and politics. The episode’s production design recalls the “used future” of films like Star Wars, while the heavy criticism of capitalism invites comparison to films like Alien or Outland. Indeed, Oxygen even borrows from a similar strain of horror movies, tapping into the fear of zombies as the monstrous face of capitalism that can be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.

Station keeping.

Jamie Mathiesen has been one of the most consistently impressive writers of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, turning in impressive scripts for both Mummy on the Orient Express and The Girl Who Died, along with a genuine masterpiece in Flatline. Indeed, Oxygen is the most impressive episode in the stretch of the season, a bold and ambitious piece of allegorical science-fiction, wedded to a genuinely scary concept, top-notch production design, and any number of clever ideas.

Oxygen is a brilliant piece of work, and a reminder of just how effectively Doctor Who can blend its disparate elements into a satisfying whole.

Give him space to work.

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Doctor Who: Thin Ice (Review)

“How is that a screwdriver?”

“In a very broad sense.”

“Well, how is it sonic?”

“It makes a noise.”

Pilot fish.

Thin Ice is a fairly solid historical adventure, one that takes a fairly conventional Doctor Who template and puts a slightly self-aware spin on it.

As with The Pilot and Smile, there is a decidedly nostalgic quality to Thin Ice. As with the two prior episodes, Thin Ice feels like a conscious throwback to the structure of the Davies era. Moffat’s final season as showrunner has opened with the classic present-future-past triptych that recalls Rose, The End of the World and The Unquiet Dead, or The Christmas Invasion, New Earth and Tooth and Claw or Smith and JonesThe Shakespeare Code and Gridlock. This is a very familiar and comforting pattern.

Hat’s off to him.

As with Smile before it, Thin Ice is built upon a stock plot. A series of mysterious disappearances lead the Doctor and his companion to one inescapable conclusion: there is a monster menacing Regency England. Thin Ice feels very much like the kind of episode that Mark Gatiss has been known to write, an affectionate historical depiction of an iconic chapter in British history like The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot’s Lantern or The Crimson Horror. Indeed, Thin Ice looks lavish, complete with all the costume drama trappings that one might expect.

However, much like Smile, there is a slight twist on the tale. Whereas Smile attempted to subvert the classic “machines gone awry” plot with a clumsy last-minute twist, Thin Ice instead makes a point to weave its commentary and theme through the familiar structure of the episode. Thin Ice might be a very conventional historical monster story, but it engages with themes of race and class that are often under-explored in these stories.

The time travelers who came in from the cold…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – In the Cards (Review)

In the Cards is the perfect penultimate episode to a sensational season of television.

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most dour and serious of the Star Trek series. It is the grim and cynical series of the bunch, with many commentators insisting that the series rejects the franchise’s humanist utopia in favour of brutality and nihilism. This criticism is entirely understandable. The series is literally and thematically darker than Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. Even at this point, it is about to embark upon a two-year-long war arc, the longest in the franchise.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

However, this is also a very reductive reading of Deep Space Nine. The series is more willing to criticise and interrogate the foundations of the Star Trek universe than any of its siblings, but it remains generally positive about the human condition. Governments and power structures should be treated with suspicion, but individuals are generally decent. Positioned right before the beginning of an epic franchise-shattering war, In the Cards is the perfect example of this philosophy. In the Cards elegantly captures the warmth and optimism of Deep Space Nine.

Deep Space Nine is fundamentally the story of a diverse and multicultural community formed of countless disparate people drawn together by fate or chance. In the Cards is a story about how happiness functions in that community, how the bonds between people can make all the difference even as the universe falls into chaos around them. It is also very funny.

Pod person.

Pod person.

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