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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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Non-Review Review: David Brent – Life on the Road

Perhaps David Brent: Life on the Road represents the edge case for the current wave of nineties nostalgia.

The Office premiered in July 2001. It was the first year of the twenty-first century, but spiritually near the end of what might be termed “the long nineties.” The mockumentary sit-com was something of a novelty at the time, building upon the rich history and legacy of British comedy personalities like Alan Partridge, with Ricky Gervais introducing the character of David Brent. Gervais did not invent cringe-comedy, but he certainly pushed it forward. Gervais’ work in The Office and Extras would inspire a whole generation of awkward social comedy.

He's got a t-shirt gun and he's not afraid to use it.

He’s got a t-shirt gun and he’s not afraid to use it.

David Brent is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it seems like a nostalgic return to familiar ground for a comedian who has long evolved past this persona. Barring a brief reprisal of the role for Red Nose Day in March 2013, Gervais retired the role of David Brent more than a decade ago. In some respects, David Brent finds the comedian retreading old ground that had been ceded to a generation of imitators and innovators years earlier. Gervais slips effortless back into the role, but there is a sense that the world has changed around him.

Despite Gervais’ best efforts, there is an awkwardness to David Brent. It is hard to tell whether Gervais has soften in the intervening years or whether the world has gotten harder, but David Brent feels trapped between two extremes. The feature film adaptation feels at once too mean-spirited and too kind-hearted towards its protagonist, offering a version of the character who is as awkward and offensive as he has even been while constructing a film that coddles the obnoxious former manager. The result is a film that feels off-balance, an old standard played out of tune.

Get Brent.

Get Brent.

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Non-Review Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

There is something subversive lurking at the heart of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

The film’s single best gag comes very early in the film, putting a wry twist on audience expectations. The movie’s opening credits feature the eponymous characters at a number of family occasions; birthday parties, weddings. Like any pair of overgrown manchildren, Mike and Dave imagine themselves to the be the life of the party. And, for the length of the opening credits, the audience is invited to see them in that manner. Their dance moves look impressive. Their costumes are fabulous. They brought their own fireworks. These guys, they know how to party.

More like "Wedding Crushers", am I right?

More like “Wedding Crushers”, am I right?

In another comedy about arrested masculine development, that would be the end of it. The credits would establish the pair as the life and soul of any social gathering and maybe need to learn to balance that with some maturity. It is to the credit of Mike and Dave Need Weeding Dates that the film returns to that montage quite quickly. Insisting that the boys behave themselves at their sisters’ wedding, the duo object and insist that they are the party. “We thought you might say that,” remarks their father, reaching for the home media system.

The film then proceeds to demonstrate what happened directly after the impressive shots from the opening credits. There is devastation. There is catastrophe. There are broken bodies. Dave protests that this is not at all representative, and demands that their father edit back in the “epic tracking shots” that showcase how cool they are. It is the movie’s strongest moment, a skilful subversion of a comedy standard that suggests Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates might have a much better sense of irony than its two lead characters.

Mike and Dave need to have a long conversation about the direction their life has taken.

Mike and Dave need to have a long conversation about the direction their life has taken.

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Non-Review Review: Daddy’s Home

Daddy’s Home is fairly mediocre comedy, despite the promise. In some respects, the film recalls very successful Will Ferrell vehicles. The premise of the film is fairly solid, with father and step-father competing with one another for the love of their children; it loosely resembles a middle-aged version of the awkward immaturity that made Step-Brothers such fun. The film features the unlikely comedic team of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, two actors who had played very well off one another in The Other Guys.

The problem is simply one of calibration. Daddy’s Home struggles to pitch itself at the right level, never finding the right balance between sincere and cynical. It seems trite to complain that the protagonists of a modern comedy are unlikable or unsympathetic, but Daddy’s Home never feels like it finds an emotional core. This is not a fatal flaw of itself, but it becomes a problem when Daddy’s Home cannot supply a steady stream of laughs.

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The X-Files – Lord of the Flies (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Lord of the Flies is an interesting episode, but not a good one.

After 4-D worked so hard to offer a glimpse of what The X-Files could or should look like in December 2001, Lord of the Flies feels like a step backwards. It is a regression, and not just because it awkwardly transitions Scully back into the role of lead character or because it returns to the comedy stylings largely eschewed by the eighth season. Lord of the Flies feels like a script that could have been written for the show in its third or fourth seasons, returning to the well-tapped reservoir of teen angst that has sustained quite a few episodes at this point.

Flies by...

Flies by…

Only a handful of elements serve to mark Lord of the Flies as a piece twenty-first century television. While Scully gets to play action hero at the climax, Mulder is gone; Doggett and Reyes do a lot of the generic detective work across the hour, even if little of their personalities gets to shine through. More than that, Aaron Paul and Jane Lynch pop up in supporting roles that nod towards the various futures of network television. In particular, Paul appears in a home-made stunt show called “Dumb Ass”, an obvious (and shallow) parody of Jackass.

However, Lord of the Flies is not particularly interested in any of these newer elements. The script very clearly wants to hark backwards, towards a past that is no longer easily accessible.

Somewhere, Scully is jealous...

Somewhere, Scully is jealous…

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Non-Review Review: Trainwreck

Trainwreck is a refreshing romantic comedy, a collaboration that plays to the strengths of both lead and writer Amy Schumer and director Judd Apatow. The comedy follows a young woman who learnt from an early age (through inappropriate doll metaphors) that “monogamy doesn’t work.” Amy is very much a female version of the arrested adolescent character that Apatow helped to popularise in mainstream American comedy, the immature adult who has yet to face any real personal or professional responsibility.

In some respects, Trainwreck is a continuation of a comedy trend that began with Bridesmaids, realising that male characters did not hold a monopoly on emotional disaster zones. Female characters are just as likely to exercise poor judgment and make questionable personal decisions. If Apatow figured out how to keep the romantic comedy fresh by tweaking the mental age and emotional stability of the male lead, then his collaboration with Schumer does something similar by swapping the gender dynamics.

Hold me.

Hold me.

The basic character and emotional arcs have not changed. After all, the romantic comedy can really only have one of two outcomes; they live happily ever after, or they don’t. Trainwreck charts the same course as The 40-Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, which basically followed the same arcs as When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle. For all the novelty of swapping the gender roles in the Apatowian comedy, Trainwreck is not particularly subversive or deconstructive.

Rather, Trainwreck is a stellar execution of a very traditional form. It is not a comedy that defies conventions or upsets expectations; it hits virtually every major beat that story like this can be expected to hit. It benefits from a rather wonderful collaboration of a writer (and actress) with a sharp eye for millennial humour working alongside a director who understands the mechanics of the genre intuitively. Trainwreck is perhaps the best mainstream romantic comedy that Hollywood has produced in quite some time.

Everything is on track...

Everything is on track…

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The X-Files – Dreamland I (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 occasionally seems like the sixth season of The X-Files is having something approaching a midlife crisis.

It has gone through a fairly massive change in routine and lifestyle; the show recently pulled up sticks and moved to Los Angeles. It has gotten a lot more ostentatious; it looks to be spending a lot more money than it was before, and it is hanging around with a whole new caliber of guest star. It has reinvented itself completely; no longer the brooding and atmospheric show it once was, it is now downright goofy and silly. Old acquaintances would be forgiven if they had trouble recognising the show. And it’s perfectly understandable.

Back to back...

Back to back…

This is the sixth season. Dreamland I is the one-hundred-and-twenty-first episode of The X-Files. The show is well past what Chris Carter had originally planned, and well past just about any measure of success. Most shows are lucky to reach a sixth season, let alone come into the sixth season off the back of a summer film and with a great deal of security about the future. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter were all committed through to the end of the seventh season. There was even talk of a sequel to The X-Files: Fight the Future being released in 2000.

Dreamland I and Dreamland II just externalise that midlife crisis, using the classic “freaky friday” body swap set up putting Fox Mulder in a dead-end job with a family that hates him as Morris Fletcher tries to help the FBI agent grow up just a little bit.

"Yep. It's a little... out there."

“Yep. It’s a little… out there.”

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