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Non-Review Review: The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come is an ambitious piece of work that suffers from some very fundamental flaws.

Chris Morris’ long-awaited follow-up to Four Lions treads on relatively familiar ground. The narrative unfolds along two threads in parallel. The first of these focuses on Moses Al Shabazz and the Church of the Star of Six, a vaguely radical (but completely non-violent) religious organisation built around addressing historical injustice and using psychic powers to bring down construction cranes over Miami. The other narrative thread is build around the bureaucratic machinations of local law enforcement, desperate to justify the bulking up of their budget after the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

My ami.

Separately, these elements feel like they should work well enough for Morris. The opening credits promise that the film is “inspired by one hundred true stories” and the set-up is absurdist enough that it feels entirely believable. Morris’ knack has always been in articulating the heightened and surreal aspects of the modern world while grounding them in mundanity, so that even the most outlandish of concepts feels anchored in a world that is recognisable and convincing. Like all great satirists, Morris holds a mirror up to the world that he sees and produces a caricature that feels as true as an naturalist portrayal.

However, The Day Shall Come just doesn’t work. A lot of this is tonal, with one of the film’s two central story lines occasionally veering into trite sentimentality that feels completely at odds with the rest of the film and which plays as an attempt to soften Morris’ more conventional and abrasive style. The result is a film that has a few compelling elements and solid (if bleak) gags, but which often feels unjustly worried about how its audience will respond and so sands down its rough edges to make something more palatable. The problem is that the rough edges are by far the most interesting parts.

He can preach until he’s horse.

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Non-Review Review: The Florida Project

The Florida Project is a beautifully made and deeply condescending film.

Director Sean Baker beautifully captures the sense of listlessness that defines an unlikely community of Tampa residents clustered in the motels that adorn the Strip. Painted in bright colours and christened with familiar-but-non-copyright-infringing names like “Futureworld” or “Magic Castle”, these motels come to embody a purgatory for residents of the area who live in spaces originally designed to accommodate tourists. These characters live in the shadow of Disneyland, but never seem to arrive.

Somewhere over the rainbow.

The Florida Project is an impressive piece of work from a technical standpoint. Baker assembles an impressive cast, drawing out a quiet and moving performance from Willem Dafoe and establishing relative newcomer Brooklynn Prince as a face to watch. Baker’s compositions are impressive, lots of static shots that provide a sense of scale for the characters who seem tiny in comparison to the themed gift shops and giant motels that threaten to swallow them whole. In particular, Alexis Zabe’s cinematography beautifully captures this sun-drenched limbo.

However, there is a patronising cynicism at the heart of The Florida Project, and its portrayal of childhood poverty. The Florida Project is candid in its exploration of the horrors of poverty, of characters who have been failed by all the institutions around them desperately trying to stay afloat. However, it is also very calculated in how it chooses to present family life in the midst of these failures and compromises. The Florida Project tries to mesh a romantic and wistful sketch of childhood with a brutal depiction of live on the margins, and the rest feels disingenuous at best.

Wilderness years.

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The X-Files – Agua Mala (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.

Agua Mala means “bad water.” It also makes for a bad episode.

Agua Mala is perhaps the most infamous turkey of the sixth season, beating out Alpha (and – depending on who you ask – Milagro) for that honour. This is the sixth season equivalent of Space or Excelsis Dei or El Mundo Gira or Schizogeny. Conveniently enough, it arrives at around the same point in the season. It is just around the half-way through the year, near the Christmas break. There is a sense of desperation and fatigue to proceedings; it is as if the entire production team just want to get something in front of the cameras to meet the season order.

Choking the life out of him...

Choking the life out of him…

Agua Mala doesn’t really work on any level. The structure is a mess, the plotting is generic. The bulk of the cast are not introduced until half-way through the episode, and climax of the episode takes place off-screen. The monster is ridiculous, and the script decides to compensate by aiming for broad comedy. However, Agua Mala might be the least funny “comedy” episode that the show has produced up to this point in its run. It is an episode that is fundamentally and undeniably flawed.

It feels almost a waste that Agua Mala was broadcast directly after Two Fathers and One Son, representing something of a return to “business as usual” for the show. If this is the new “business as usual”, it is quite unsettling.

Somebody got slimed...

Somebody got slimed…

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The X-Files – Detour (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Detour is a wonderfully traditional little episode in the middle of a somewhat eccentric season.

Although it lacks the off-kilter improvisational madness that drove much of the fourth season, the fifth season of The X-Files is a rather strange beast. With The X-Files: Fight the Future already filmed, the show was somewhat limited in what it could and couldn’t do in the fifth season – preventing the series from doing anything as dramatic as throwing Memento Mori into the middle of the run. Nevertheless, the fifth season features a variety of experimental and off-format episodes. Stephen King and William Gibson contribute scripts while Darren McGavin pops in as a guest star.

The woods are alive...

The woods are alive…

Detour was broadcast between Unusual Suspects and The Post-Modern Prometheus. Unusual Suspects was an episode headlined by the Lone Gunmen, while The Post-Modern Prometheus was broadcast in black-and-white as an homage to James Whale’s feature film adaptation of Frankenstein. As such, Detour feels like a rather conventional and old-fashioned episode, with Mulder and Scully encountering something strange in a rural setting, getting trapped in the wilderness, and encountering a monster threatened by the expansion of civilisation.

The beauty of Detour is that the episode’s decidedly traditional aesthetic feels out of place and almost novel amid all the off-format episodes surrounding it. Detour represents something of a literal detour – away from the more eccentric episodes of the season and towards something more familiar and safe. This allows Detour to have the best of both worlds – it feels at once traditional and quintessential, but also distinct from everything happening around it. Detour is a refreshingly old-fashioned episode of The X-Files, a reminder of just how much fun the show could have in its comfort zone.

Back to nature...

Back to basics…

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The X-Files – Humbug (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 world is a weird place, but it seems to get a little less weird all the time.

One of the great recurring themes of The X-Files is that globilisation and rapid development have cast light on the deepest nooks and crannies, having a homogenising effect. There’s little room in the world for the eccentric and the strange, as Starbucks opens an average of two stores every day and access to the internet in the United States doubling between 2000 and 2014. In 2009, the furthest a person could be from a McDonalds in the United States was 107 miles. The world is getting smaller.

Funhouse mirror...

Funhouse mirror…

Paradoxically, this only winds up pushing people further apart. This happens on both a community and an individual level. Small towns find themselves struggling to survive in the current economic climate, despite the increased accessibility. Despite the growth of social media to make interpersonal communication easier than ever, the number of people feeling socially isolated has doubled since 1985.

Humbug is the show’s first script from writer Darin Morgan. While not as polished as his later work, it perfectly captures that mournful sense that a certain kind of weirdness is passing.

Something fishy is going on...

Something fishy is going on…

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Non-Review Review: Courage (Wymyk)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

Courage is a fascinating little Polish film, with an interesting dramatic hook. Director Greg Zglinski offers a searing portrait of masculinity and impotence in the twenty-first century, where ever moment and action and decision seems to be documented for future use – our private failures of judgment ultimately become public spectacles, and in this era of globalisation and instant media connections, it’s impossible to escape the consequences of one bad split-second decision. While Zglinski’s film might overstay even its relatively short runtime, it does raise some interesting and challenging ideas about heroism in the twenty-first century.

Oh, brother!

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