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101. A Star is Born (#182) – This Just In

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guest Stacy Grouden, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 182nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Luke Cage – All Souled Out (Review)

It is interesting watching Luke Cage in the age of Donald Trump.

The first season did not have to worry about such things. Luke Cage premiered in late September 2016, more than a month before Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the United States Presidential Election. The first season had entered production a year earlier, in September 2015, only fourth months after Donald Trump had announced his presidential bid. Production on the first season wrapped in March 2016, a couple of months before Ted Cruz would formally throw in the towel and affirm Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President of the United States.

However, the second season emerges in a highly-charged political environment where it seems like every piece of popular culture exists in the shadow of Donald Trump. Trump exerts a strange gravity over popular culture, making every piece of pop culture a strange referendum on his premiereship. Is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom about Donald J. Trump? How about Darkest Hour? Could the analogy stretch to Avengers: Infinity War? There is so much pop culture and so little time.

At the same time, it seems inevitable that the second season of Luke Cage would have to confront the legacy of Donald Trump and what he represents in American popular culture. However, the series does this in a rather interesting way.

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Luke Cage – I Get Physical (Review)

Luke Cage is engaged with the idea of celebrity.

To be fair, it is perhaps the only Marvel Netflix series that could explore this particular theme. After all, Daredevil is about a vigilante who trades in fear and operates primarily at night. Jessica Jones is about a self-hating alcoholic who is constantly on the verge of imploding. Iron Fist is so mired in cultural appropriation that it is impossible to imagine the series pulling off the theme in a manner that wouldn’t make the show worse. The Punisher is afraid to acknowledge what its hero actually is.

In contrast, Luke Cage is anchored in a central character who is essentially a neighbourhood celebrity. Soul Brother #1 demonstrates how Luke has imposed himself on Harlem, his actions tracked through an application, his merchandise sold in the barbershop, his image graffitied on walls. In Straighten It Out, he hands out his contact details, with instructions to call him if there is an emergency. In Can’t Front On Me, it is made clear that the local community know that they can reach out to him in person at the barbershop in case of emergency.

However, what is most striking about the handling of celebrity within Luke Cage is not just that it deals with the idea of Luke as a celebrity, but that it then uses Luke in order to interrogate how society treats its celebrities and how popular culture hungers for the fall just as excitedly as they cheered for the rise.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Virtuoso (Review)

Virtuoso is an interesting companion piece to Blink of an Eye.

Blink of an Eye was in many ways an exploration and reflection of Star Trek as a multimedia franchise, looking at the way in which the franchise has touched and shaped contemporary culture in the thirty-odd years since its inception. As part of this, the episode touched on fandom in a variety of ways, whether the abstract fandom of those individuals inspired by the series to accomplish great things or the more specific fandom including merchandise. Blink of an Eye was very much an episode about loving Star Trek.

Music to our ears.

As a result, Virtuoso feels like a very strange choice to directly follow Blink of an Eye. The two episodes are not connected by plot, outside of the basic idea that the EMH might spend an extended period of time on an alien planet without access to Voyager. After all, Star Trek: Voyager had committed itself to producing standalone episodic storytelling. However, Virtuoso is also something of a metaphor for Star Trek fandom, a look at what it is to love a piece of popular entertainment and to eagerly embrace it.

Unfortunately, the proximity to Blink of an Eye does no favours for Virtuoso, emphasising the script’s weaknesses and tone-deafness. Virtuoso is an episode that feels very pointed and cynical in its portrayal of fandom, very broad and very unpleasant. It is a clumsy and muddled piece of television, on that struggles to hit the right notes.

Small pleasures.

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Non-Review Review: Red Sparrow

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

Red Sparrow puts a tacky (and tame) erotic sheen on a tepid (and tawdry) espionage story.

Red Sparrow has an interesting premise, both in terms of history and in terms of genre. It is a spy film structured around one of the more unsettling and uncomfortable aspects of the Cold War, the use of espionage agents to harvest information through sexual means. It is also a premise that could serve as a fascinating deconstruction of the tropes that audiences have come to expect of such films, a timely exploration of how issues of consent apply in the sorts of deception-laden love scenes that populate the genre. Red Sparrow could be James Bond as a sexual horror story.

However, Red Sparrow is far too tame to deliver on either premise. The film is too devoted to the conventional structure and dynamics of an espionage thriller to upset the audience in the way that any meaningful exploration of this history of sexual exploitation would, and is too comfortable with the rhythms and beats of the genre to offer a searing deconstruction of how its characters frequently leverage sex as just another weapon.

As a result, Red Sparrow is a meandering and uneven example of the espionage, trapped between two stools. The film is not sordid enough to excel as a visceral thriller in its own right, and not committed enough to offer a sobering examination of its themes.

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Millennium – The Mikado (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Glen Morgan and James Wong famously pulled Millennium away from its “serial killer of the week” format in its second season. While the label might be a little harsh (and perhaps a little exaggerated), it did hint at a recurring formula in the first season. Frank Black would be called in to catch a serial killer with a unique and distinctive modus operandi. The first season was littered with episodes built around that core format, wildly varying in quality. For every Blood Relatives or Paper Dove, there was a Loin Like a Hunting Flame or Kingdom Come.

The second season largely moved away from all that. Although Morgan and Wong occasionally made nods towards the classic format in episodes like Beware of the Dog, 19:19 or Goodbye Charlie, the second season of the show was a lot less formulaic and familiar. This is was a show that could transition from The Hand of St. Sebastian to Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” to Midnight of the Century to Goodbye Charlie to Luminary. It seemed quite reasonable to suggest that the second season of Millennium was not as firmly attached to the concept of serial killers as the first season had been.

This is Avatar calling...

This is Avatar calling…

This makes The Mikado a rather unique instalment, arriving a little past half-way through the season. Written by Michael R. Perry, The Mikado is very much an archetypal serial killer story. There is a case from Frank Black’s past, lots of victims, some occult imagery, and even a ticking plot. In fact, The Mikado is probably the only episode of the second season that would arguably fit more comfortably in either the first or third seasons of the show. All you’d have to do is write out the character of Roedecker.

However, there is something decidedly big and bold about The Mikado. It is perhaps the most archetypal (and maybe the most successful) straight-down-the-middle “serial killer of the week” story that Millennium ever produced. After all, if you are only going to do produce one truly traditional “serial killer of the week” story in a season, you may as well go big. And you can’t go much bigger than the Zodiac.

It's all about the execution...

It’s all about the execution…

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Millennium – 5-2-2-6-6-6 (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.

It is interesting to compare and contrast the scripts that Morgan and Wong wrote for the fourth season of The X-Files with the scripts that they wrote for the first season of Millennium. The duo were writing for both shows at the same time – with episodes frequently airing within a week of each other. Morgan tended to focus more on the four X-Files scripts, while Wong worked primarily on the three Millennium episodes. While the seven scripts are all fascinating in their own way, there is a marked difference in how the duo approach the two shows.

Their four episodes of The X-Files are very bold and experimental – they look and feel utterly unlike anything that the show has done; before or after. These four scripts seem to needle at the show, pushing it further. Home seems designed to see how much unpleasantness the writers can get on to Fox prime time in the nineties. The Field Where I Died is a thoughtful and melancholy romance with no companion in the X-Files canon. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man parodies the show’s central conspiracy. Never Again makes the Mulder/Scully dynamic toxic.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

That makes a great deal of sense. After all, The X-Files was in its fourth season. It was approaching that impressive “one hundredth episode” landmark, the number of episodes necessary before the show would be secure in syndication. (At least in the television landscape of the nineties.) Although less than half-way through its eventual nine-season run, The X-Files was an old dog by this stage of its life cycle. As such, it made a great deal of sense for Morgan and Wong – two writers who had been there at the beginning – to shake things up.

In contrast, the three scripts that Morgan and Wong wrote for the first season of Millennium are a bit more conservative in scope and tone. They are fascinating pieces of television that help to establish the mood of the show, but they are not as experimental of the work that Morgan and Wong were doing on The X-Files. Again, this makes a great deal of sense. Millennium was still a very young show. It was still defining its own identity, figuring out what it wanted and needed to be. Morgan and Wong’s three scripts are essential in that development.

Taking a page from the Group...

Taking a page from the Group…

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