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Night Stalker – Malum (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

Malum is a mess of an episode.

It has a number of very strong ideas, and some interesting twists along the way. However, the script has no idea how to fashion any of those ideas into a compelling narrative with tangible stakes. Instead, Malum gets tangled and twisted in its own wealth of story ideas. Anything worth exploring in Malum is suffocated by the sheer volume of material, affording the audience no opportunity to care about what is happening or invest in any of the supporting characters.

He's so proud of it, he put his name on it...

He’s so proud of it, he put his name on it…

It is a shame, because the basic ingredients of Malum are among the most interesting ideas of the show’s first season. Throwing out the script, the underlying story ideas of Malum are strong enough to support an engaging and exciting episode. Malum has a fantastic cast, with veteran supporting actors Tony Todd and Fredric Lehne making guest appearances. It also has stakes that should be very emotionally affecting, a very powerful central issue, and a structure that lends itself to this sort of horror storytelling.

It is just a shame that none of this actually works.

Bloody murder...

Bloody murder…

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Non-Review Review: Spotlight

Nominally, Spotlight is about the exposé that ran in the Boston Globe identifying dozens of paedophile priests who had been shuffled around Boston parishes and the corrupt institution that sheltered them. Thomas McCarthy’s film never shies away from the horror stories told by the survivors of such institutional abuse, nor does it ignore the systems that were complicit in perpetuating and covering up that abuse. Running just over two hours, McCarthy’s film is meticulous and painstaking as it sorts through all the leads and follows the unravelling thread.

However, Spotlight is also about something bigger. It is a story about institutional structures as they exist, and how those structures are primarily motivated to protect themselves. The big reveal in Spotlight is not that the abuse is taking place, it is just how many people tried in how many different ways to expose that abuse to the cold light of day. The Catholic Church might be the most significant institution involved in the cover-up, but Spotlight suggests that the structures of Boston (and implicitly all over the globe) failed the people who needed them most.

spotlight4

Spotlight is a powerful film. McCarthy is not the most dynamic or exciting of directors, but his matter-of-fact presentation style suits the material perfectly. Towards the end of the film, journalist Matt Carroll jokes that he has started working on a horror novel to distract himself from the particulars of the case. Spotlight is very much a horror story, but a horror story where the discomfort is tied to the sheer inevitability. McCarthy’s camera is always definite and steady; a slow pan or zoom confirms what the audience already suspects, and is all the more effective for it.

McCarthy has assembled a fantastic cast, including John Slattery as Ben Bradley Junior. Bradley is the son of Benjamin Bradley Senior, the executive editor at The Washington Post who oversaw the Watergate coverage and who was played by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men. This creates a nice thread of real-life continuity for Spotlight, cementing its pedigree. McCarthy’s journalism epic is powerful stuff, and perhaps the most compelling endorsement of long-form investigative journalism to appear on screen in quite some time.

spotlight3

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Millennium – Through a Glass Darkly (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Through a Glass Darkly is a terrible piece of television.

There is no nice way to say it. There is no excusing it. Through a Glass Darkly is an absolutely wretched script directed in a cloying manner. It is cliché, it is clumsy, it is trite. It is manipulative and cynical. There are no redeeming features to Through a Glass Darkly beyond the fact that it makes Human Essence and Omerta look significantly better than they actually are. This is an abysmal production, and one of the worst forty-five minutes of television that Ten Thirteen has broadcast to this point. It is up there with Excelsis Dei.

"You are a paedophile, you are a nonce, you're a perv, you're a slot badger, you're a two pin din plug, you're a bush dodger, you're a small bean regarder, you're an unabummer, you're a nut administrator, you're a bent ref, you're the crazy world of Arthur Brown, you're a fence foal, you're a free willy, you're a chimney bottler, you're a bunty man, you're a shrub rocketeer..."

“You are a paedophile, you are a nonce, you’re a perv, you’re a slot badger, you’re a two pin din plug, you’re a bush dodger, you’re a small bean regarder, you’re a unabummer, you’re a nut administrator, you’re a bent ref, you’re the crazy world of Arthur Brown, you’re a fence foal, you’re a free willy, you’re a chimney bottler, you’re a bunty man, you’re a shrub rocketeer…”

Child sex abuse is an absolutely horrific reality. The world is not always a nice place, and the world is not always a safe place. In the late nineties, film and television were growing more comfortable with exploring and addressing issues of child abuse. However, it was something that needed to be handled with a great deal of care and skill. Millennium had already learned how difficult it could be to tell a story about child abuse, with Chris Carter’s well-intentioned but clumsy The Well-Worn Lock.

Through a Glass Darkly manages to retroactively make The Well-Worn Lock seem like a work of genius.

 "...this paedophile has disguised himself as a school in Sheffield."

“…this paedophile has disguised himself as a school in Sheffield.”

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Millennium – Monster (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.

Monster continues the process of laying the groundwork for the second season of Millennium. Glen Morgan and James Wong had very consciously shaken things up with The Beginning and the End, and the first third of the second season is clearly intended to construct a solid foundation for the rest of the year. Looking at the plot points and character beats from the various episodes, they read almost like a checklist of things to address or introduce before the series can really start moving under its own power again.

Even outside of the dramatic changes wrought by The Beginning and the End, the other episodes in this stretch of the season each have their own purpose. Beware of the Dog introduces us to the Old Man, affectionately riffs on the first season format, and outlines the refactored Millennium Group. In turn, Sense and Antisense riffs on The X-Files and helps to identify areas of overlap with Millennium. A Single Blade of Grass gives Frank back his psychic powers, albeit in a more powerful and abstract form. The Curse of Frank Black is a character-driven vehicle. 19:19 and The Hand of St. Sebastian get well and truly biblical.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

The most dramatic aspect of Monster is the introduction of the character of Lara Means. Means becomes a pretty vital part of the second season of Millennium, and is introduced in Monster with an eye to her inevitable role in The Time is Now. Means is a vital cog in the workings of the second season, perhaps the most important part of the mythology explicitly created by Morgan and Wong, instead of simply repurposed and reinvented. Means is a fantastic creation, wonderfully brought to life by actor Kristen Cloke and well-realised by Morgan and Wong’s scripting.

However, even outside of the important introduction of Lara Means to Millennium, Monster feels like an episode that exists to set up and outline the larger themes and ideas of the season in a way that foreshadows the larger arc. Like A Single Blade of Grass, it reiterates themes that will become a lot more important as the year goes on. Like Beware of the Dog, it uses the familiar template of a first-season Millennium episode to do this.

I believe in angels...

I believe in angels…

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Non-Review Review: Red Riding – The Year of Our Lord 1980

Talk to someone else!

There is no one else, they’re all %$#!ing dead!

– BJ and Hunter

Red Riding: 1980 isn’t quite as strong as its direct predecessor. In fact, it’s probably the weakest of the films in the trilogy. There are quite a few reasons for this, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth watching. For all its flaws as part of a continuing narrative, Red Riding: 1980 is still a fascinating tale of police corruption, and arguably the movie of the trilogy that works best as a standalone feature. Or, at least, better than it does as one connected narrative. Red Riding: 1974 depends on Red Riding: 1983 for an ending, and Red Riding: 1983 depends on Red Riding: 1974 for a beginning. Red Riding: 1980 sits in the middle, and serves as something of an example of the type of endemic corruption that has taken root in this version of Yorkshire.

Hunter on the prowl…

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