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Non-Review Review: Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a very pretty mess.

Atomic Blonde is a stylistic showcase for director David Leitch and star Charlize Theron, a bruising and beautiful ballet of brutality with a killer soundtrack. Atomic Blonde is a film set in a funhouse mirror version of Berlin in November 1989, a movie that argues its location is more a state of mind than a physical place. The violence in Atomic Blonde is visceral, the mood tangible, the soundtrack delectable. Atomic Blonde is a feast for the senses.

Seeing red.

However, Atomic Blonde also makes next to no sense. The film is an action movie dressed in the attire of a nihilistic espionage thriller, and a little narrative confusion inevitably comes with the territory. These films are all but obligated to have twists and betrayals, macguffins and revelations, switches and levers. Atomic Blonde embraces that zany approach to plot and structure with relish. However, the problem with Atomic Blonde is more fundamental than all that. It often struggles to remain coherent from one scene to the next, from one set piece to another.

Atomic Blonde is beautiful chaos, an exploding collage that probably didn’t make any sense to begin with.

Putting her turtleneck on the line.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Bar Association (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

The politics of Star Trek can occasionally be difficult to pin down.

There are obvious reasons for this, of course. Television is a collaborative medium, the result of lots of different creative voices. It is hard to argue that Star Trek has an consistent set of politics, because those creative voices have very different politics. Even on the original show, episodes like Errand of Mercy and The Omega Glory suggested that Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry had very different perspectives on the Vietnam War. Certainly, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have very different viewpoints.

Don't beat yourself up, Quark...

Don’t beat yourself up, Quark. We have some Nausicaans to do it for you.

However, it is also the case that the franchise has always been quite careful when engaging with political discourse, particularly in the context of its nineties incarnation. The myth of Star Trek paints the show as progressive and liberal, but the truth is that the series rarely broke new ground in the nineties and into the new millennium. Episodes like Rejoined and Judgment were very much the exception rather than the rule, engaging with big political and social issues in a very clear manner. A lot of the time, the franchise played it fairly safe.

That is part of what makes Bar Association such an interesting episode of television. As with Rejoined, there is a sense that the Star Trek franchise should take the liberal politics of Bar Association for granted. After all, while there is some ambiguity as to exactly what form of economic theory is employed by the Federation, it certainly isn’t capitalism. However, it is interesting to hear the franchise (perhaps literally in this case) put its money where its mouth is, allowing a major character to quote Marx and Engels.

Strike while the bar is hot...

Strike while the bar is hot…

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The Lone Gunmen – Bond, Jimmy Bond (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

If The Pilot is a proof of concept, then Bond, Jimmy Bond is all about demonstrating that The Lone Gunmen can work on a weekly basis.

Second episodes are more important than most viewers realise. While television pilots typically enjoy larger budgets and looser schedules in an effort to demonstrate that a concept can work as a television show, second episodes are very much about demonstrating precisely how that model will be applied to the structure of a weekly television show. The second episode is about transitioning from a pilot into a weekly schedule. As such, Bond, Jimmy Bond is much more indicative of the first season of The Lone Gunmen than The Pilot was.

All set.

All set.

So Bond, Jimmy Bond is largely about laying groundwork for what follows, and for setting the tone for what comes next. The title makes this clear, introducing the fifth and final member of the leading ensemble. While The Pilot had made room for Zuleikha Robinson as the mysterious Yves Adele Harlow, Bond, Jimmy Bond introduces Stephen Snedden as the well-meaning but none-too-bright James “Jimmy” Bond. This is the cast as it will remain for the rest of the run, give or take a guest appearance from Kimmy the Nerd.

However, there are also changes behind the scenes. Rob Bowman directed The Pilot, his last piece of work with Ten Thirteen before leaving to concentrate on feature film work like Reign of Fire and Elektra. On the commentary to The Pilot, Frank Spotnitz affectionately joked that they couldn’t afford Bowman. That seems perfectly believable, given Bowman’s rising star. As such, Bryan Spicer was drafted in to direct Bond, Jimmy Bond. Spicer would direct the lion’s share of the show, helming six of the show’s thirteen episodes.

"I know kung-fu..."

“I know kung-fu…”

Spicer was very much the logical choice. He had only directed a single episode of The X-Files, but it was an important episode from the perspective of The Lone Gunmen. Spicer had helmed Three of a Kind towards the end of the show’s sixth season, the second Gunmen-centric episode and the show that provided a clear inspiration for the television series. In its own way, Three of a Kind was as much a pilot for The Lone Gunmen as Unusual Suspects or The Pilot had been, and Bryan Spicer was a perfectly logical choice for for the show’s signature director.

However, Bond, Jimmy Bond also cements some other details that will be important for the rest of the season. The Pilot had been an off-beat thriller, but it was a story with incredibly high dramatic stakes and a solid dramatic arc. The Pilot skewed, consciously or not, more towards a quirky thriller than an action comedy. As such, the wacky hijinks of Bond, Jimmy Bond are much more in line with the tone of the series than the grave threat that was posed in The Pilot. For better or worse, Bond, Jimmy Bond sets the agenda for the season ahead.

The last time Ten Thirteen got accused of mimicking The Matrix, everything worked out perfectly...

The last time Ten Thirteen got accused of mimicking The Matrix, everything worked out perfectly…

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Millennium – Matryoshka (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.

It seems like every time that the third season of Millennium takes a step forward, it is simply preparing to take a tumble backwards.

After spending over a third of the season trying to rewrite the events of the second season, it seemed like the show was finally accepting the changes that had been made by Glen Morgan and James Wong over the course of the sophomore year. Omertà, Borrowed Time, Collateral Damage and The Sound of Snow had all seen the show trying to make its peace with the loss of Catherine Black and the changes to the Millennium Group stemming from the second season finalé. It looked like the show was working through its conflicted feelings, and was ready to move on.

Perhaps it must...

Perhaps it must…

However, both Antipas and Matryoshka represent a very clear step backwards. Antipas feels like an attempt to return to the mood and aesthetic of the late first season (and first season characterisation of Lucy Butler) with no regard for what came afterwards. Matryoshka attempts to reintroduce the sort of clumsy revisionist rewriting of Millennium‘s internal continuity in a manner that evokes The Innocents or Exegesis or Skull and Bones. It presents a secret history of the Millennium Group that heavily contradicts The Hand of St. Sebastian.

There is a host of potentially interesting stuff buried under all of this, but – as with a lot of the third season – it is very hard to care about a show more invested in playing ping-pong with its own history than in trying to tell a new and compelling story. It seems like the most striking thing about most third season episodes is how they engage with what came before, more than what they are actually trying to do. Watching the third season, it seems like the Millennium writing staff is just as divided as the Millennium Group was in Owls and Roosters.

Nesting dolls...

Nesting dolls…

This approach is self-defeating on a number of levels. The second season was admittedly divisive among fans, but it seems like the third season simply cannot get past The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now in any meaningful fashion. Fans who enjoyed the second season will inevitably feel frustrated by the repeated efforts to minimise or over-write it. Fans who disliked the second season will grow increasingly annoyed that the show is still fixated upon it. Any viewers without a working knowledge of the history of the show are likely to just be confused and befuddled.

Matryoshka is not the worst offender for this sort of confused self-contradiction and self-fixation, but there is a sense that Millennium‘s fascination with the continuity (or lack thereof) of the second season has already passed to point of diminishing returns. Much like the script for Matryoshka, it seems like the third season of Millennium is trapped in the past.

Eating its own tale...

Eating its own tale…

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Millennium – Maranatha (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.

Maranatha provides a nice close to Chip Johannessen’s four scripts for the first season of Millennium.

At its core, Maranatha is a story about stories. It is a tale about mythmaking and storytelling. It is about a monstrous man who seeks to transform himself into a creature of legend, brutally slaughtering innocent people in order to feed the idea that he is something much more than a corrupt political official. As such, the story sits quite comfortably alongside Johannessen’s other three scripts for the season, each of which is about storytelling or mythmaking in some form or another.

The power of Antichrist compels you...

The power of Antichrist compels you…

In Blood Relatives, James Dickerson attends the funerals of people he never knew, pretending to have been a part of the lives of the recently deceased; he tells stories and memories that never happened. In Force Majeure, Frank Black encounters a radical group of people who believe in the story of the end times; whether true or false, this story provides meaning to the life of the otherwise lost Dennis Hoffman. In Walkabout, Frank Black tries to piece together his recent history, constructing a narrative to account for out-of-character behaviour.

Maranatha serves as something of a culmination of this approach to Millennium. It the story of a sadist who seeks to elevate himself to the status of legend, dictating and shaping his own narrative through fear and manipulation.

"I wanna take his face... off!"

“I wanna take his face… off!”

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The X-Files – Terma (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.

Tunguska and Terma borrows the structure that made the show’s early mythology episodes so effective. Tunguska is full of intriguing and compelling questions, implications that would seem to broaden or deepen the mythology. However, instead of resolving any of the major threads, Terma simply turns itself into a roller-coaster thrill ride. A cynical observer might compare the weaker mythology episodes to a shell-game: the potential of an interesting premise, lost in a shuffle designed to disorientate and catch the viewer off-guard.

It is an approach that has served the show well. Ascension avoided answering too many of the questions posed by Duane Barry, barrelling along with the momentum of a runaway freight train. Similarly, End Game did not dwell too heavily on the questions posed by Colony, instead serving as a series of high-momentum chase sequences with Mulder following the Alien Bounty Hunter to the ends of the Earth. Paper Clip moved so quickly that the viewers never wondered why the documents recovered in Anasazi were no longer earth-shattering, but merely macguffins.

Things are really heating up...

Things are really heating up…

The X-Files is very good at this sort of dynamic mile-a-minute plotting. The production team are very good at what they do. There is a sleek professionalism to these episodes that makes them easy to watch. Although filmed in Vancouver, there were few shows in the nineties ambitious enough to send their character to a Russian gulag for human experimentation. However, the cracks are starting to show. Herrenvolk demonstrated how frustrating a lack of answers could become. Terma struggles to balance a number of potentially interesting plot threads.

There are a lot of elements of Terma that might have worked well, if they had been given more room to breath. Sadly, the episode spends most of its run time trying to build up momentum towards the inevitable scene where proof narrow slips through Mulder’s fingers one more time.

Evil oil...

Evil oil…

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The X-Files – Tunguska (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 show’s conspiracy plot line is rapidly approaching critical mass.

It is quite clear at this point that while colonisation might have a schedule, Fox had just thrown Chris Carter’s out the window. The X-Files: Fight the Future looms large on the horizon. Indeed, Tunguska is credited to Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, who would end up writing the screenplay for the feature film over the Christmas break. However, while Carter had originally conceived the movie to put a cap on the television series, Fox wanted it to tie more aggressively into the series. It would not be the end of the journey, but a middle chapter.

Flagging the danger...

Flagging the danger…

As such, the larger conspiracy plotline that had been gathering momentum since the end of the second season spends two years largely spinning its wheels to keep the feature film relevant. The film was written midway through the fourth season and shot in the gap between the fourth and fifth seasons. So, there is a lot of stalling required. To use the “cancer” metaphor that is cleverly (and almost subconsciously) woven through the fourth season, the central conspiracy plotline seems to go into remission for a while.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Indeed, the stalling allows the show to take stock and to devote space in the mythology to more personal stories like Tempus Fugit and Max or Christmas Carol and Emily. However, it also means that episodes like Herrenvolk, Tunguska, Terma and The End felt like attempts to buy time – offering the illusion of dynamism and change while only inching the plot along.

Wired up...

Wired up…

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