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Non-Review Review: Zootropolis (aka Zootopia)

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Zootropolis is a solidly entertaining family film that strains under the weight of its core premise.

There is a great idea in here, a detective film set in an anthropomorphised world featuring a rabbit and fox who must team up to solve a number of mysterious disappearances. Along the way, writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston fashion the story into an allegory rich with social commentary about race and class issues in American cities. It helps that the script is light on its feet and packed with enough fast gags that it breezes along without ever getting stuck in the same place for too long.

zootopia4

However, this becomes a problem in and of itself. There is a sense that Zootropolis struggles to do too much in the space afforded to it. The plot covers quite a lot of ground as our plucky heroes embark on their investigation, including extended (and overt) riffs on pop culture standards like The Godfather and Breaking Bad. There are points at which it feels like Zootropolis might be a much stronger film if it slowed down a bit, instead of hopping from one set-up to the next in the style of its rabbit protagonist.

Zootropolis largely works, but it never comes together in the way that the best Disney outings do. There are points at which Zootropolis feels more like a turducken than a chimera.

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The X-Files – Dreamland II (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.

Morris Fletcher is (and remains) one of the more interesting aspects of the Dreamland two-parter.

Fletcher would go on to become perhaps the most unlikely recurring character in the history of The X-Files. Michael McKean would reprise the role for a brief cameo in Three of a Kind at the end of the season. As with Kersh, he would disappear from the show’s world for the troubled seventh season, but would return the following year. He made a guest appearance in All About Yves, the finalé of The Lone Gunmen. Fletcher would then follow the Lone Gunmen back to The X-Files, appearing in Jump the Shark during the final season.

And the shippers went wild...

And the shippers went wild…

A large part of what makes Fletcher work is the wonderful guest performance of Michael McKean. McKean is a veteran actor with a long history of great work, dating back to his breakout role as Lenny (and Squiggy) on the sitcom Laverne and Shirley. Along with the move to Los Angeles, the sixth season of The X-Files began to drift away from Chris Carter’s initial reluctance to cast recognisable actors in significant roles. The X-Files: Fight the Future had featured guest appearances from Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, Armin Muller-Stahl and Glenne Headly.

The two-parter built around Michael McKean paves the way for appearances from Ed Asner, Lily Tomlin and Bruce Campbell. These are all superb guest performances, and consciously play into the idea that the sixth season of The X-Files has taken on a more playful or vaudevillian style. It is too much to describe these guest roles as “stunt casting” in the same way that putting Jerry Springer in The Post-Modern Prometheus or Burt Reynolds in Improbable was stunt casting, but the casting decisions are part of a broader change in the show.

Our man Morris...

Our man Morris…

On paper, Morris Fletcher could easily come off as a one-note creep. After all, he is a character who thinks nothing of using his body swap with Fox Mulder to cheat on his wife of twenty years. There is a creepy and pervy banality to his evil, one that mirrors that of Eddie Van Blundht in Small Potatoes. However, while Small Potatoes felt a little too sympathetic to pathetic Eddie Van Blundht, Dreamland strikes a better balance in its portrayal of Morris Fletcher. McKean plays Fletcher as a very human character, but one who is no less creepy for his well-practiced charm.

It goes almost without saying that Michael McKean’s guest performance is a major reason why Dreamland (mostly) works.

Not particularly reflective...

Not particularly reflective…

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The X-Files – Home (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.

Home is a big one.

It is an episode that is frequently ranked among the best that the show ever produced. It is an episode that many viewers remember quite clearly, even if they only saw it once years earlier. It was the first episode of the show to receive a viewer discretion warning on initial broadcast and was famously never repeated on the Fox Network. “It had one airing and then it was banned,” writer Glen Morgan quipped. “Jim and I don’t get rerun money for that.” It is also one of the rare episodes of The X-Files that is not explicitly paranormal in its subject matter, instead wandering into the macabre and the taboo.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Home also marks the return of writers Glen Morgan and James Wong to the series, following the cancellation of Space: Above and Beyond. With the debut of Millennium looming, the production team on The X-Files was under pressure. Fox had convinced Morgan and Wong to return to Ten Thirteen in return for producing a pilot for The Notorious Seven, one the duo’s long-gestating ideas. Morgan and Wong would produce four episodes of the fourth season of The X-Files and three episodes of the first season of Millennium.

Home is the first of their four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files, and it sets the mood quite well. Returning from Space: Above and Beyond, the two seemed to be bristling with an electric energy and a palpable frustration. While not all four scripts are unqualified masterpieces, they each serve to push The X-Files further than it has gone before. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Home is that it is the most conventional of these four explosive scripts.

The mother of all problems...

The mother of all problems…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Dear Earth (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

In many respects, Dear Earth serves as a mirror to Toy Soldiers.

Both stories are based around familiar wartime story beats. Both are very sentimental hours of television. Both are firmly anchored in the idea that Space: Above and Beyond is largely about reworking the narratives of the Second World War for a futuristic outer space setting. There is a lot of overlap between Dear Earth and Toy Soldiers, with the episodes feeling like two peas in a pod. They both appeal to the same aspects of Space: Above and Beyond.

You've got mail...

You’ve got mail…

However, Dear Earth works a lot better than Toy Soldiers did. It is dealing with a similar collection of iconic imagery and ideas associated with the Second World War, touching on many of the same themes and ideas; it is just that the execution is considerably stronger. Dear Earth is a show that not only has a lot more charm than Toy Soldiers did, but a lot more humanity. It is an episode that does a lot to remind viewers why they have come to care for the show’s ensemble.

Dear Earth is a very well-made piece of television.

Astro-turf...

Astro-turf…

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Is It Ever Appropriate to Slam a Movie Because of a Star’s Appearance?

Hmmm… Okay, maybe this isn’t entirely a fair example, but the thought occurred to me while reading the Guardian’s review of Couples’ Retreat and the reviewer spent his first paragraph critising Vince Vaugn’s weight. I wish I were kidding, but here’s the quote:

Favreau was always on the chunky side, to be fair, and he’s been doing fine behind the camera with the Iron Man movies, but back in Swingers, Vaughn had the requisite skinniness to persuade us he really was a half-starved young Hollywood actor. Now he has boy boobs, love handles and back fat. And all this (a lot of this) in a movie that requires him to wear a swimsuit most of the time.

The review then goes on to make a somewhat valid criticism of his current career choices (while kicking Jennifer Aniston, which is just mean – if a little bit justified), but speaks little about the offending movie in general. I know that it isn’t really fair to complain about a review criticising a guy’s appearance – I acknowledge that woman are probably more affected by our image-conscious society – but is it ever really fair to slam a movie based upon the lead actor’s appearance?

Phat or fat?

Phat or fat?

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June in Review

Hey, I thought in might be handy if I did a little post at the very end of every month that sort of picked out (from my own point of view) the highlights, so someone trawling through the archives has a handy little guide right at the top (but if you want to jump in wholesale, go right ahead).

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