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Star Trek: Voyager – Workforce, Part I (Review)

Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II form an interesting two-parter.

To a certain extent, Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II are overshadowed by the other “event” stories of the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager. Notably, with the exception of the season premiere Unimatrix Zero, Part II, the late-season two-parter was the only multi-part seventh season story to air as a conventional two-part story, with the two halves broadcast one week apart. Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II had aired on the same night as a television movie, similar to how The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II had been broadcast during the fourth season. Endgame would air as a two-hour special episode, in the manner of other Star Trek series finales like All Good Things… or What You Leave Behind.

Labouring under false pretenses.

As such, there is something very traditional about Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II, a two-parter that feels more like old-fashioned two-part Star Trek stories than many of the episodes around it. It recalls some of the mid-season two-parters from Star Trek: The Next Generation, like Birthright, Part I and Birthright, Part II or Gambit, Part I and Gambit, Part II. Unlike episodes like Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II, it never feels like Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II were conceived as an “event” story. Instead, it feels like the story developed organically and that the production team realised that the story justified two separate episodes rather than being designed to provide a sense of scale or spectacle.

The seventh season of Voyager invests a lot of time and energy in chasing the sensibility of “classic” Star Trek storytelling with clumsy issue-driven narratives like Critical Care or Lineage or Repentance. Often this feels cynical and crass, particularly given how hard those episodes strain to avoid saying anything potentially controversial or divisive. As such, there is something refreshing in Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II, which feel very much like “old-fashioned” Star Trek storytelling in format as well as content.

Not all there.

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108. Slender Man – This Just In (-#57)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best(and the 100 worst) movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Sylvain White’s Slender Man.

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Iron Fist – Immortal Emerges From Cave (Review)

Immortal Emerges From Cave might just be the best episode of the first season of Iron Fist.

Of course, Immortal Emerges From Cave is not a good episode of television. It is bedevilled by all the other issues with Iron Fist, from inconsistent characterisation to dead-end subplots to pacing issues. It even adds a few new problems of its own, especially with a ham-fisted and ill-judged attempt to bring the character of Bride of Nine Spiders into live action. Immortal Emerges From Cave is unlikely to make much of an impression, and it certainly doesn’t rank with the other best episodes of the Marvel Netflix series.

“Three men enter! One man (or two men) leave!”

At the same time, Immortal Emerges From Cave is the episode of Iron Fist that perhaps comes closest to fulfilling its own ambition. Immortal Emerges From Cave is a relatively self-contained narrative in the middle of the season, in which Danny finds himself forced to compete in a tournament against the Hand in order to save an innocent life. It is a hokey premise, but one that leads to a series of fairly middling set pieces in which Danny Rand works his way through various “levels” in pursuit of his goal.

Immortal Emerges From Cave feels very much like some forgotten z-list direct-to-video martial arts film from the nineties, a pulpy and absurd excuse to string together a collection of fight scenes. The result is not spectacular by any measure, but it is far more entertaining than the meandering story being told around it. Immortal Emerges From Cave might not succeed on general terms, or even on its own terms, but it at least has a strong sense of its own identity. That is enough to put it ahead of the rest of the season.

Glowing reviews.

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Non-Review: Don’t Breathe

Don’t Breathe works reasonably well for about two thirds of its runtime.

The premise of Fede Alvarez’s Detroit-based horror is quite clever, a stew of familiar ideas thrown into a blender and delivered in a very stylish manner. Don’t Breathe is a film that begs to be summarised in pithy one-liners that bridge movie titles using the dreaded “… with …” In those terms, Don’t Breathe is Home Alone meets Halloween, Wait Until Dark meets The Bling Ring, Panic Room meets Saw. The combinations are infinite, as are the influences. And there is a charm to that.

Firing blind.

Firing blind.

Horror is a visceral genre; doing something new is great, but so is doing something familiar in a novel way. For its first two thirds, Don’t Breathe is an exciting and tense horror movie with an ingenious high concept and with a number of reliable jump scares. Fede Alvarez does not necessarily innovate, but he understands how to pace a sequence for maximum tension and he has a great eye for cinematic influences. Contemporary culture can often feel like “remix” culture, mashing old ideas together to create something interesting. Don’t Breathe fits with that.

The problem comes during the movie’s third act, when the thrills and horror slow down just long enough to flesh out the “monster” at the centre of the film. As it pushes into its climax, Don’t Breathe becomes a lot less intriguing and effective. In those final twenty minutes, Don’t Breathe indulges the baser impulses of the horror genre in a manner that is crass and cheap. Don’t Breathe begins as a series of inventive homages to the best that horror genre has to offer. Unfortunately, it ends as a demonstration of the genre’s worst attributes.

Setting his (gun) sight on them.

Setting his (gun) sight on them.

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The X-Files – Fresh Bones (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Written by Howard Gordon and directed by Rob Bowman, Fresh Bones is a superbly constructed piece of television. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that Fresh Bones is the best “traditional” episode of The X-Files produced since Scully returned to the fold. While episodes like Irresistible and Die Hand Die Verletzt have been bold and adventurous in their attempts to expand the show’s comfort zone, Fresh Bones is perhaps the best example of what the show was missing while Gillian Anderson was unavailable – proof the familiar formula still works.

It’s a great example of what might be termed “the standard X-Files episode” – a demonstration of how all the moving parts come together to produce an episode of the show, offering an example of the series’ standard operating practice. If you were to pick an episode of the second season to demonstrate how a “standard” episode of The X-Files should work, Fresh Bones would be perhaps the most appropriate example. (Aubrey and Our Town are perhaps the only two other examples.)

Grave danger...

Grave danger…

In keeping with Bowman’s approach to the series, Fresh Bones feels like a forty-five minute movie. The show atmospherically shot with some wonderful kinetic sequences – such as Mulder’s pursuit of Chester on the pier or Scully’s attack in the car. The Voodoo subject matter lends Fresh Bones a wonderfully pulpy atmosphere, although it seems like Howard Gordon has done his homework. The script to Fresh Bones averts many of the awkward stereotypes you’d expect in a show about Voodoo starring two white leads produced in Vancouver.

The result is a superb piece of television, an example of what The X-Files is capable of.

A bone to pick...

A bone to pick…

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The X-Files – Excelsis Dei (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

The horror genre is much maligned.

Horror films typically fight harder for recognition than films in many other genres – often finding themselves consigned to the same ghetto as science-fiction or fantasy films. They are less likely to take home major mainstream awards, and it seems like horror films typically have to wait longer for reappraisal. Outside of aficionados, there’s a wariness of the horror genre – a skepticism towards it.

Window of opportunity...

Window of opportunity…

There are a lot of reasons for that. Some of them make sense; some of them don’t. One of the more common assumptions about horror is that the genre is more likely to produce “cheap” or “trashy” entertainment, as opposed to something more profound or insightful. There are, again, lots of reasons for this assumption. Most obviously, there’s the absurd cost-to-profit ratio of cheap terrible horror films that incentivises studios to churn out as many as they can as fast as they can. There’s a reason there’s an absurd number of Saw sequels.

However, that “cheapness” or “trashiness” isn’t just a result of business decisions. There are certain story tropes and narrative techniques that exist within the horror genre that feel like the cheapest sort of thrills. If you want to make an audience uncomfortable, just throw in something one of those trashier elements. As long as the audience squirms in their seats, it doesn’t matter what the implications of your decisions are. After all, your job is to creep them out?

Bitter little pill...

Bitter little pill…

So horror takes all manner of shortcuts, without any real thought as to what those elements actually mean. They are just something that catches the audience off-guard and makes them sit up in their seat. So horror tends to indulge in the worst sorts of racism and sexism as a means of drawing any sort of response from the audience. These tried-and-tested horror staples become effective storytelling shortcuts. The foreign becomes horrific. Conservative sexual morality is enforced with brutality. Rape – literal or metaphorical – is a cheap thrill.

The X-Files struggles with these sorts of issues as it tries to bring horror to television. It occasionally does a very good job. However, there are also times when the series gives into its baser instincts. Excelsis Dei is an absolutely terrible episode, and an example of why the horror genre gets written off by so many people so quickly. It’s a poorly constructed hour of television, one about how old men are perverts, the rape of an under-developed character is a story hook and foreigners are magic.

The writing (or fine art) is on the wall...

The writing (or fine art) is on the wall…

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Absolute Identity Crisis (Review/Retrospective)

This January, I’m going to take a look at some of DC’s biggest “events.” This week I’ll be taking a look at Brad Meltzer’s impact on the DC universe.

Identity Crisis is the first in the trilogy of stories that built off the original Crisis on Infinite Earths to offer a fairly significant reevaluation of the modern DC universe, examining where the characters and the fictional landscape was as compared to where it had been decades before. I’ve argued that Marvel went through a similar period of introspection from House of M through to Siege, but DC seemed to engage with the concept on a more direct level. Written by best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer, Identity Crisis is an attempt to explore the rather fundamental changes that occurred in superhero comics during the nineties, often as a direct response to The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, giving us a more cynical depiction of the concepts and characters that we take for granted. It’s controversial – as any similar reimagining would be – and, to be frank, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

However, it’s always fascinating, even if it is grimly so.

Time to hang it up?

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