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Non-Review Review: Ford v. Ferrari (Le Mans ’66)

Ford v. Ferrari very much the Ford model of mid-budget adult-skewing awards fare.

It’s sturdy and reliable. It handles well. It also doesn’t have too many surprises under the hood. Ford v. Ferrari knows exactly what the audience wants from a film like this, and it often delivers right down to the shot. The camera is exactly where it needs to be, when it needs to be there – whether capturing the concerned expressions on a family nervously leaning in close to a radio or flying by the team manager as he watches his car cross the finish line on one of the last laps.

Food for thought.

It is easy to be cynical about all of this. Were somebody to approach Ford v. Ferrari cynically, they could argue that it is the product of a factory floor that is just as much a conveyor belt as those operated by Ford. However, there is a reason that this model of awards fare became an industry standard. Ford v. Ferrari constantly reminds its audience of the appeal underpinning this factory-built American craftsmanship. This sort of film was a staple of awards seasons for decades, and Ford v. Ferrari demonstrates just why that was.

Ford v. Ferrari is good, old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing awards fare.

Miles to go.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #13!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy, Ronan Doyle and Jay Coyle to discuss the week in film. There’s a lot to cover this week, most obviously the passing of Agnès Varda, who was something of a patron saint of the podcast. However, the film news also covers the United States Justice Department’s intervention in the row between Netflix and the Academy, big announcements from Cinema Con, news about Disney’s purchase of Fox, the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the Celtic Media Awards.

All of this plus the top ten and the new releases.

The top ten:

  1. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World
  2. Die Walkure – Met Opera 2019
  3. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  4. Green Book
  5. Instant Family
  6. Lucifer
  7. What Men Want
  8. Captain Marvel
  9. Us
  10. Dumbo

New releases:

The Lone Gunmen (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.

The Lone Gunmen seemed destined to be an oddity.

When it arrived in March 2001, it must have felt like a throwback. The production team had consciously modelled the series on the classic episodic spy and adventure shows of the sixties, seventies and eighties. Mission: Impossible and The A-Team served as cultural touchstones, with both The Pilot and Eine Kleine Frohike making visual references to Brian dePalma’s cinematic adaptation of Mission: Impossible while Maximum Byers featured an extended discussion of the pros and cons of Pros and Cons, an early first season episode of The A-Team.

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In terms of structure and tone, The Lone Gunmen seemed to hark back to the golden age of two-knuckled action adventure television shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or MacGyver. Threads rarely carried over from episode to episode. Only one actor who didn’t appear in the opening credits would appear in more than a single episode of the show. There was no hint of a “mythology” and no clear structure from week-to-week beyond “the Lone Gunmen get into wacky adventures and hijinks ensue.”

In many ways, The Lone Gunmen was the kind of show that had quietly shuffled off the air in the early nineties. It felt like it belonged to a generation of television predating The X-Files rather than succeeding it. Even the opening credits to the show were much less abstract and much more traditional than those of The X-Files, playing as something of a highlight reel of the early first season. There is something very aggressively old-school about the aesthetic of The Lone Gunmen.

lonegunmen-likewaterforoctane2

The Lone Gunmen would have seemed somewhat outdated had it aired before Homicide: Life on the Streets during the late nineties; it was doubly out of place in the emerging era of reality television. However, there are elements of The Lone Gunmen that feel like they might have played better had the show arrived a few years later. Byers, Langly and Frohike were too eccentric to anchor an hour-long show on a major network, as Fox had already become. They might have fared better on another network after the cable television explosion.

It is easy enough to imagine The Lone Gunmen as an oddity airing on a smaller cable network like HBO or Showtime or AMC. Indeed, the perfect pitch for The Lone Gunmen would seem to land somewhere between Bored to Death and The X-Files. The audience for The Lone Gunmen might have been small in terms of major television networks, but it was devoted. Smaller providers – even on-line providers like Amazon or Netflix – would love to court that sort of fanbase. Had The Lone Gunmen arrived a few years later, it may have had a chance.

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As such, The Lone Gunmen feels like a television show out of time. It is a series that landed at the wrong moment on the wrong channel, and which likely never had a chance. The animators on King of the Hill were incorporating jokes about the inevitable cancellation of The Lone Gunmen before the episode even aired. The viewing figures were far from spectacular, but they were better than the shows that had aired in the same slot in the season prior and the season following. March 2001 was just not the right moment for The Lone Gunmen.

Then again, it feels appropriate that The Lone Gunmen should so perfectly mirror its central character. Heroic, endearing, charming, but also undeniably odd.

lonegunmen-diagnosisjimmy19

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The Lone Gunmen – All About Yves (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.

The broad consensus would seem to suggest that All About Yves is the best episode of The Lone Gunmen.

While this is perhaps unfair to Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros, it is certainly a defensible position. All About Yves is one of the tightest shows of the season, and marks the first time since The Pilot that a plot has managed to actually build momentum and tension across its run-time. As effective as the climaxes of Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros might have been, the first season of The Lone Gunmen doesn’t really offer much in the way of dramatic stakes.

"This looks familiar..."

“This looks familiar…”

In a way, that is to be expected. The Lone Gunmen is, first and foremost, a comedy. There are points in the first season where it feels like The Lone Gunmen exists primarily as a silo to store all the displaced comedy that the production team stripped out of the sombre eighth season of The X-Files. (Cynics might suggest that there wasn’t quite thirteen episodes’ worth of comedy to be re-homed.) It is hard to feel too stressed when Langly is threatened in Bond, Jimmy Bond or when a poacher points a gun at Byers in Diagnosis: Jimmy.

That is the beauty of All About Yves, managing to create a growing sense of tension and unease without sacrificing any of the show’s humour. Indeed, with the addition of guest star Michael McKean to the cast, All About Yves winds up funnier than about half of the preceding season.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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Harsh Realm (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Harsh Realm seems destined to be a curiosity in the career of Chris Carter.

Sure, other projects would fail. Millennium had lasted three seasons, but its audience had been in decline since the second episode was broadcast. The Lone Gunmen would fold after only half a season. However, nothing was quite as sudden and brutal as the failure of Harsh Realm. The show did not even make it to half a season. It was cancelled by the network during the production of its ninth episode, after only three episodes had aired. The six unaired episodes were shunted over to FX, where they could be broadcast away from the media spotlight.

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This might not have been such a big deal if it wasn’t the first project developed by Chris Carter as part of his new contract at Fox, if it hadn’t been hyped up and analysed and debated. Harsh Realm was one of the most talked about new dramatic shows of 1999, and so its death was not a quiet or dignified affair. The cancellation became something of a public spectacle. Most of the attention fell on Fox Chief of Programming Doug Herzog, who seemed to be out of his depth running a major network.

Inevitably, though, some of the attention was focused on Chris Carter. Harsh Realm was a spectacular commercial failure for Carter, and one which raised questions about whether Carter and his production team were ready to face the twenty-first century.

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The X-Files – Requiem (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

As with a lot of the seventh season, Requiem is an oddity.

It is an episode that exists in a weird limbo state, carefully designed and calibrated so that it might serve two – if not three – very different purposes. Requiem was written and filmed at a point where nobody knew what was going to happen next. Requiem could have been either a season or a series finalé; it could have been the last episode of the seventh season, the last episode of the series before the launch of a movie franchise, or even just the last episode ever. That is a lot of weight to put on a single episode.

"X" marks the spot where it all began...

“X” marks the spot where it all began…

In essence, Requiem existed in a state of ambiguity and flux. It was never entirely sure what Requiem would be when Chris Carter wrote it or when Kim Manners directed it. Requiem had to be designed to be fluid and malleable; it had to support any context that might be heaped upon it in the editing suite or on broadcast. Stories like Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” and Bad Blood had explored the blurred boundaries of reality and perception; Requiem is perhaps that idea applied to the show itself.

Chris Carter could tell you what happened in Requiem as it went through production. He could explain plot details and character motivation; he could outline the chain of events that bind Requiem together. However, it was impossible for anybody working on Requiem to actually assert what the episode was until three days before the episode aired. Until that point, Requiem was a shadow or a blur, just waiting for some larger context to bring it into proper focus.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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Harsh Realm – Kein Ausgang (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

So, what does an average episode of Harsh Realm look like?

After all, the show was cancelled after only three episodes had been broadcast. Those three episodes were all written by the creator, and formed something of a loose introduction to the show. Inga Fossa ended with our protagonist finally accepting his place in the virtual world and his mission to defeat General Omar Santiago before the dictator can destroy the real world. There is a sense that the show had yet to even demonstrate what a regular episode of Harsh Realm might look like. It was over before it had even begun.

Jumping into action...

Jumping into action…

Kein Ausgang is the first episode of Harsh Realm to be written by somebody other than Chris Carter. As such, it is an important milestone in the development of the series. It is also the first of two episodes written by Steven Maeda, who would prove to be a pretty reliable set of hands in the life of the young show. Based on his contributions to Harsh Realm, it is easy to see why Carter drafted Maeda over to The X-Files in the wake of Harsh Realm‘s cancellation, even if his contributions to that show were a little more uneven.

Kein Ausgang offers an interesting glimpse of what Harsh Realm might have looked like going forward, if Fox had waited more than three episodes to cancel the show.

Shining a light on it...

Shining a light on it…

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