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“So, Your Son is a Nazi”: Modern Hollywood’s Weird Fixation on Feel-Good Stories About Fascists…

JoJo Rabbit is supposed to be an “anti-hate satire”, but what exactly is it satirising?

To be fair to director Taika Waititi, JoJo Rabbit is a well-made and charming crowd-pleaser. It manages something genuinely impressive, offering a feel-good coming of age comedy set against the backdrop of Germany in the dying days of the Second World War. It belongs the awkward, saccharine genre that produced films like Jakob the Liar or Life is Beautiful or The Day the Clown Cried. It is impossible to overstate how thin a razor blade Waititi is dancing, and how remarkable it is that he maintains his balance. The film never feels too sombre or too dark, but never as tasteless as something like The Book Thief.

Of course, Waititi largely manages this through cinematic sleight of hand. He avoids dwelling too heavily or for too long on the victims of fascist oppression in Nazi Germany. JoJo Beltzer finds a young Jewish girl hiding in his attic, but the film never details the horrors of the Final Solution. The characters are repeatedly confronted with the sight of bodies hanging in the public square, but the camera never really lingers on them. Instead, it focuses on JoJo’s reaction to them. The audience’s gaze is fixated on his gaze. The question isn’t how the audience feels about the horror, but how they feel about how JoJo feels.

This raises an interesting and slightly unsettling question about the recent wave of Hollywood films exploring the emergence of the modern extreme right and the resurgence of fascist ideology. Who exactly are these films for? What is the intended audience of JoJo Rabbit, and what exactly is it saying to them?

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Non-Review Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The Curse of La Llorona is fairly solid as contemporary studio horrors go.

Although the arrival of Avengers: Endgame has a lot of attention focused on the largest and most successful shared cinematic universe of the twenty-first century, there is a lot to be said for the strange horror universe that has been built outwards from The Conjuring. Although this trend is most overt in The Conjuring 2, the rare horror movie to also feature a car chase sequence, there is something fascinating in how these films have transformed studio horror into a blockbuster concern.

Mother have mercy.

There is a reason that these films are released during the summer months, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. Again, discussing The Curse of La Llorona in such terms might seem cynical, but it is genuinely striking. It takes a lot of work to satisfy the competing demands of the two genres; the shock of horror with the familiarity of blockbuster storytelling. The challenge with The Curse of La Llorona lies in offering audiences something that satisfies all their expectations of a film like this, while still offering a few shocks and starts along the way. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

The Curse of La Llorona strikes that balance relatively well. The film knows the formats and rhythms of a horror film, and director Michael Chaves knows both what the audience expects and how to work within that format to build a genuine and compelling sense of dread. The Curse of La Llorona is well-made, efficient, and delivers what the audience anticipates from a Conjuring spin-off. There’s something endearing in the reliability, in the care with which the film strikes these sorts of balances.

Scream queen.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Collective (Review)

Watching Collective, it’s strange to imagine a time when the Borg were considered a credible threat to the larger Star Trek universe.

Collective alludes to this palpable sense of menace in its opening scene. Several members of the crew are playing poker in the Delta Flyer. They are playing in the cockpit, for some reason, rather than in the aft section that would seem to lend itself to such recreational activities. The reason for this storytelling decision comes at the end of the teaser, when something catches Paris’ eye in the middle of one hand. The other members of the away mission follow his gaze, spotting a Borg Cube in the shuttle’s path. Panic ensues. The crew rush to their stations. This, Collective seems to scream, is a big deal.

Baby on Borg.

Of course, this is not actually a big deal. Collective focuses on a Borg Cube that has effectively run aground, a ship that has been disabled. The crew are dead, the result of “a space-borne virus that adapted to Borg physiology” that Child’s Play would reveal to be a form of biological warfare. It should be noted that “the crew discover a disabled Borg Cube” is something of a recurring trope on Star Trek: Voyager, with a similar plot beat employed in both Unity and Scorpion, Part I during the third season. When Kim talks about “bad memories” while skulking through the Cube, it initially seems like he might be referencing the latter.

(Ultimately, Kim is not referring to his traumatic experiences in Scorpion, Part I, which left the character on the verge of death after being attacked by a member of Species 8472. Although the Borg Cube in Collective evokes such memories for the audience, Kim is insulated by Voyager‘s stubborn refusal to acknowledge its own internal continuity. As a result, the memories stoked by the trip to the Borg Cube are generic in nature, of “a haunted house [his] parents took me to when [he] was six.” This is never referenced again. This reveals nothing of Harry Kim. It is just empty filler.)

Dead circuits.

There are plenty of reasons why Voyager keeps stumbling across damaged and derelict Borg Cubes. From a narrative perspective, it allows Voyager to tells stories featuring the Borg without have the crew overwhelmed. Voyager has allowed its characters major victories over the Borg in episodes like Drone or Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II, but understands that having a lone lost ship triumph repeatedly over the Borg Collective would strain credulity. So having the ship repeatedly encounter broken-down Borg Cubes allows the series to involve the Borg in these stories while nominally preserving their menace.

However, there is also a sense that there might just be something more at work here, that the sad and story state of the Borg Collective across the seven-season run of Voyager might reflect more than just the demands of the production team. It would seem to hint at a broader sense of social anxieties.

“For the promo!”

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73. Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) – Anime April 2018 (#57)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This year, we are proud to announce Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. We hope to make this an annual event. This year, we watched a double feature of Isao Takahata’s Hotaru no haka and Hayao Miyazaki’s Tonari no Totoro to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their original release in April 1988. This week, the first part of the double bill, Hotaru no haka.

Regarded as one of the most affecting animated films ever made, Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of two children caught in the middle of the United States’ firebombing of Japan. Adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical novella of the same name, Grave of the Fireflies is a harrowing portrayal of the consequences of war, particularly upon those in need of society’s protection.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 57th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek – And the Children Shall Lead (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

– Bob Dylan, The Times, They Are A-Changin’, 1964

Either you Gorgan, or you be gone.

Either you Gorgan, or you be gone.

And the Children Shall Lead is a notoriously terrible episode of television.

It is also another reminder that the sixties are coming to an end, and (with them) Star Trek. For a so that is widely considered progressive and utopian, Star Trek often seemed to struggle with its perspective on the various social issues of the sixties. Fans might point to episodes like A Taste of Armageddon or Errand of Mercy as sweeping condemnations of the Vietnam and the Cold War, but they tend to gloss over the patriotic defence of United States foreign policy in episodes like A Private Little War or The Omega Glory.

"I regret to inform you, Captain, that the script is indeed 'that bad'."

“I regret to inform you, Captain, that the script is indeed ‘that bad’.”

Star Trek seemed very strongly divided on the countercultural movement. In many ways, Spock spoke to a generation of young people distanced from their parents and disenfranchised from the status quo, while the franchise imagined a bright future in which people of different colours and creeds worked together. On the other hand, the show was also quite anxious and condescending about the threat counterculture posed to the establishment, as demonstrated in episodes like Operation — Annihilate! or This Side of Paradise.

Although The Way to Eden tends to get treated as the third season’s definitive statement on the hippie movement, And the Children Shall Lead is a much more patronising and reactionary response. It is a fifty-minute public service message about the dangers that radical ideas pose to young minds and why those young minds should never dare to question their elders, who almost certainly know best.

A healthy green glow...

A healthy green glow…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Hatchery (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Hatchery is a very odd episode.

On the one hand, it feels like another irrelevant detour on the path to Azati Prime. It is a standalone episode about a wacky adventure that the crew have upon discovering a crashed ship on the surface of a dead world, playing with the standard Star Trek tropes about mind control and possession. This is not the first time that a Star Trek character has had their behaviour dramatically altered by an alien compound, and it does seem a bit distracting to tell this story at this point in this season, even in the aliens in this case are insect!Xindi.

Slice o' life...

Slice o’ life…

At the same time, it does feel like an important episode thematically. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is packed with all manner of existential explorations of what it means to be Star Trek. What are the essential ingredients of the franchise? How far can you wander off the template without breaking it? What does Star Trek even mean in a post-9/11 world? There are aspects of Hatchery that deal with these questions rather directly, as the episode explores the consequences of putting a bunch of marines on a Star Trek ship.

It just feels rather surreal that “Archer goes crazy from bug spray” should be the jumping-off point for that particular story.

"Hey there, little fella..."

“Hey there, little fella…”

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Millennium – Antipas (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.

Antipas is the second of three scripts written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz over the third season of Millennium. It is also the first of Lucy Butler’s two appearances during the third season, although she has little more than a cameo in Saturn Dreaming of Mercury. This is actually the second time that Chris Carter has written for the character of Lucy Butler, having scripted her début back in Lamentation towards the end of the first season. Antipas feels like a conscious effort to connect back to that first appearance.

To be fair, Lucy Butler has been radically different in each appearance. It is difficult to get a read on the character or to suggest a “definitive” take. Finding the “real” Lucy Butler is as difficult as identifying the “real” Millennium Group or as arbitrary as naming the “real” version of Millennium. That said, there are thematic throughlines. Four of her five appearances are tied into children, for example; the show fairly consistently portrays Lucy as a demonic mother figure in contrast to Frank as a loving father.

Here's Lucy!

Here’s Lucy!

While the idea of Lucy as a creepy mother ties Antipas into A Room With No View just as much as Lamentation, the script seems to hark more firmly back to Lucy’s character motivation in Lamentation than to her scheming in A Room With No View. In Antipas, Lucy is once again obsessed with biological motherhood, trying desperately to conceive – and even to claim another child as her own. In Lamentation, she sought to mother a child with Doctor Ephraim Fabricant; in Antipas, she seems to aspire towards Frank Black.

Along the way, Antipas is packed with fevered dream imagery and uncanny visuals. As with a lot of the episodes around it, Antipas feels like a very odd piece of television. When Carter wrote Lamentation, this oddness was enough of a break from the norm to power an entire episode. Antipas lacks the sort of strong centre that a piece of television like this needs to ground it. The result is an intriguing and unsettling, if not quite compelling and engrossing, episode of television.

A-mazing nanny...

A-mazing nanny…

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The X-Files – Two Fathers (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.

This is the end. I never thought I’d hear myself say those words after all these years. You put your life into something… build it, protect it… The end is as unimaginable as your own death or the death of your children. I could never have scripted the events that led us to this. None of us could. All the brilliant men… the secret that we kept so well. It happened simply, like this.

– the Cigarette-Smoking Man channels his inner Chris Carter

In case you were wondering about the title...

In case you were wondering about the title…

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Millennium – A Room With No View (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.

“This is how it will all end,” Jose Chung idly speculated half-way through Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense.” He advised Frank that the end of the world will not begin “with floods, earthquakes, falling comets or gigantic crabs roaming the earth. No, doomsday will start simply out of indifference.” He may have been correct. It is one thing to kill a person; it is quite another to destroy their spirit, hollowing out the shell before slotting them comfortably back into a functioning society.

A Room With No View plays Chung’s observation and plays it straight. Well, mostly – there is something darkly comical about Landon’s reaction to discovering that he is being abducted into Oregon. Appropriately enough, Lucy Butler’s hideout in Hood County is relatively close to the town of Boring, Oregon. A Room With No View is a bleak and cynical piece of work, an existential apocalyptic horror story perfectly suited to Millennium. It is an episode that would seem strange or unusual in any circumstances, but fits quite comfortably here.

Here's Lucy!

Here’s Lucy!

On paper, A Room With No View could easily seem cynical or exploitative. It is the story about a sadistic kidnapper who abducts teenagers to torture and sexually abuse them in a dungeon. The basic plot elements of A Room With No View come from the pop culture serial killer playbook, to the point where it is not too hard to image the episode as a trashy instalment of CSI or Criminal Minds or – truth be told – the first season of this show. In basic structure, A Room With No View could seem as crude as Wide Open or Weeds or Loin Like a Hunting Flame.

However, it is the execution of A Room With No View that marks as a genuine classic. For all that the episode trades in the stock tropes of serial killer fiction, it is doing something unique and provocative with them. Writer Ken Horton and director Thomas J. Wright construct a potent allegory for abuse and under-achievement, a haunting horror story that is all the more unsettling for its refusal to conform to audience expectations for a story like this.

Blue is not always the warmest colour...

Blue is not always the warmest colour…

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Millennium – 19:19 (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.

One of the interesting aspects of the second season of Millennium is just how carefully structured all the chaos actually is.

There is an endearing and infectious randomness to the plotting of episodes like Sense and Antisense or A Single Blade of Grass, with individual episodes often struggling to fit together on an act-by-act basis. However, things become a lot clearer from a distance. Pulling back, it appears quite clear that there is a method to the madness. The episodes in the season – particularly those positioned towards the beginning and the end – each serve a clear purpose in the larger arc of the second season.

Will he die for our sins?

Will he die for our sins?

The first third of the season is very much about establishing concepts that will be of use later in the story. The Beginning and the End removes Frank from the yellow house and starts him on a new journey. Beware of the Dog introduces the Old Man and teases the mythology of the Millennium Group. Monster introduces Lara Means. The Curse of Frank Black gives Frank his long dark midnight of the soul. 19:19 and The Hand of St. Sebastian were the last two episodes in this opening act, and they exist to affirm the show’s cosmology.

Both 19:19 and The Hand of St. Sebastian firmly establish the show’s apocalyptic worldview in a Christian theological framework. 19:19 does this by exploring biblical prophecy and eschatology, while The Hand of St. Sebastian reveals the Millennium Group to be a secret Christian sect who have existed for over a thousand years. Although the show has always taken a lot of its imagery and iconography from Christianity, 19:19 engages explicitly with the idea of biblical prophecy and millennialism.

All part of the plan...

All part of the plan…

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