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Non-Review Review: King Richard

King Richard is an interesting take on the classic sports biopic.

On the one hand, King Richard is a very conventional film. It’s a movie that hits all of the marks that one expects for an inspiring look at two sports icons like Venus and Serena Williams. There is family tension. There are debates about whether the young athletes are ready. There are training montages. Made with the active participation of the Williams family, King Richard was never going to be a gritty “warts and all” interrogation of its subject. Instead, it’s a charming and charismatic star vehicle for Will Smith, one of cinemas most charming and charismatic stars.

King Richard holds Court.

However, there’s also an interesting tension at play within the film itself, one that derives from the film’s understand of just how inevitable the success of Venus and Serena Williams actually is. To be fair, most sports biopics are stories of triumph over adversity, given that they tend to focus on successful sports stars. However, Venus and Serena Williams exist in such rarified company, dominating culture to such an impressive degree, that the conclusion of King Richard doesn’t just feel predetermined but inescapable.

Cleverly, King Richard doesn’t try to fight this idea. Instead, it leans into it. King Richard is a character study of Richard Williams, the hustler who boasts eagerly and enthusiastically that he is “in the champion-raising business.” To any outside observer, Richard’s confidence borders on insanity. When an observer remarks that he’s claiming to have raised “the next Mohammad Ali”, Richard is quick to correct them and boast that he’s got “two” of them. There’s an interesting frisson at play here, because King Richard trusts its audience to know that – no matter how surreal his claims might appear to his contemporaries – he is entirely correct.

A Rich(ard) character study…

In hindsight, it seems almost absurd to point out how severely the odds were stacked against the success of Venus and Serena Williams. The two were born into a large working class family in Compton, surrounded by drugs and violence, with nowhere to train but community tennis courts. Richard and his wife Brandy didn’t have the money to send the pair to upper-class academies, so had to teach the girls themselves with an obsessive devotion to recording and playing back the work of professionals. However, none of that really matters, because any audience watching King Richard knows the outcome of this story.

The result of all of this is a sports biopic that hews quite close to the familiar rhythms and template of other sports biopics, but which operates according to a different internal tension. It’s a movie which sticks close enough to events that there’s no second act humbling of Richard, Venus or Serena. The movie never tries to build suspense around whether its stars are going to succeed in the face of the enormous odds against them, but instead about when and why. It’s a subtle shift in emphasis. However, coupled with the film’s strong casting and powerhouse lead performance, it’s enough to help King Richard stand out from the crowd.

The perfect Ten(nis)?

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The X-Files – Empedocles (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.

Empedocles returns to one of the most enduring Ten Thirteen themes: the idea of evil as contagion.

Both The X-Files and Millennium have touched upon this theme. On The X-Files, episodes like Aubrey and Grotesque suggested that evil was something that could be passed from person to person. Despite the fact that Millennium was based around a forensic profiler, Chris Carter described it as a show about “the limits of psychology”; it seemed like evil could often be traced to sinister forces at work in the world. Looking at Ten Thirteen’s output as a whole, it seems that Carter believes wholeheartedly in the idea of evil as an external force.

Man on fire...

Man on fire…

Empedocles offers perhaps the most straightforward example of this recurring theme. Reyes describes the case as “a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity.” It is a narrative thread that connects from the murder of Luke Doggett in New York to a workplace shooting in New Orleans. Evil is at work in the world, in a way that is palpable and discernible. Empedocles is not a subtle episode of television, linking this contagion of evil images of hellfire and burning.

There is undoubtedly something just a little simplistic about all of this. One of the luxuries of conspiracy theory, as The X-Files has repeatedly suggested, is the way that it serves to impose a logical and linear narrative on trauma; to make sense of acts and events that would otherwise suggest a brutally random universe. The mythology running through the first six seasons of the show suggested a conspiracy of powerful men might provide such a nexus of causation, but Empedocles offers something a bit broader.

It burns...

Burn with me.

As with a lot of the eighth season mythology, Empedocles cuts out the middle-man. The eighth season largely eschews the blending of “self” and “other” that run through first seven seasons of the show, largely rejecting the narrative of collaboration and complicity implied by the Syndicate. The eighth season of The X-Files repeatedly suggests that evil is inhuman, presenting its antagonists as distinctly “other” forms that infiltrate and pervert the body in perhaps the purest distillation of the show’s many viral metaphors.

In its own way, Empedocles is just as much a mythology or conspiracy episode as Three Words or Vienen. Like those episodes, Empedocles posits a conspiracy theory based upon the subversion of human identity by something alien and external. Empedocles posits a conspiracy of evil.

Crispy...

Crispy…

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Non-Review Review: Delivery Man

Delivery Man works surprisingly well. Like something of a throwback to the nineties “overgrown manchild” comedy about slackers honestly trying to pull their lives together, Vince Vaughn’s latest effort is disarmingly sincere. It isn’t plotted particularly well, and there are points where Delivery Man threatens to unspool if you think about it too much, but this adaptation of Canadian comedy Starbuck has its heart in the right place and manages to deliver a nice sentimental comedy without every becoming overwrought or overly earnest.

Cue a tonne of "who's your daddy?" jokes...

Cue a tonne of “who’s your daddy?” jokes…

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