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Non-Review Review: Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind is an intimate and thoughtful character study, featuring two superb central performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds. Written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Mississippi Grind finds two gamblers winding their way down the eponymous river in the hopes of winning big at a poker game in New Orleans. “Like Huck Finn,” compulsive gambler Gerry insists when the idea first comes to him. It seems an appropriate comparison, given the themes of the film.

Never pushing its meditations on the American Dream too hard, and never labouring its points too heavily, Mississippi Grind achieves an honesty that borders on the profound. More than that, it captures both the romance and the desperation of that one last bet – the inability to settle for “enough” and the insistence that there is always everything to be won, even if it means that everything can be lost.

Meet me in St. Louis...

Meet me in St. Louis…

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Star Trek – The Gamesters of Triskelion (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Gamesters of Triskelion is not a great episode of Star Trek. Although filmed after Obsession, even if the production order lists it before that episode, The Gamesters of Triskelion feels like we’re watching producer John Meredyth Lucas finding his feet. It’s an episode that feels light and looks relatively cheap, formed from a collection of clichés that would already be familiar to Star Trek fans or fans of pulp science-fiction.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about The Gamesters of Triskelion is that it has a decidedly pulpy charm to it. The entire episode looks like it was lifted from the cover to some trashy paperback, and the plot is recycled from stock science-fiction concepts and themes. While this isn’t enough to sustain an entire fifty minutes of television, it does allow the episode to feel a little distinctive and memorable… if not necessarily in a good way.

Shat happens...

Shat happens…

It is amazing how much of the franchise’s memorable iconography and imagery comes from weaker episodes of the classic Star Trek. It’s a testament to the show’s production design team, that could always find a way to make Star Trek look impressive, even on a tight budget and a short schedule. There’s also something enduring about the bizarre images that Star Trek could throw up on screen, even when the scripts were lacking; from space!Lincoln in The Savage Curtain to half-black/half-white racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

Of course, there are episodes that are both great and iconic at at the same time, like Mirror, Mirror. Still, rewatching the show, it is hard to believe just how much of the popular perception of Star Trek comes from episodes that are of… questionable quality. After all, The Gamesters of Triskelion seems to have made an impression. It seems to be a go-to reference for Matt Groening’s television shows.

Throwing a bit of stick about...

Throwing a bit of stick about…

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The X-Files – Hell Money (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.

Hell Money is an oft-overlooked episode of The X-Files.

The positioning in the third season probably doesn’t help. It comes directly after Teso Dos Bichos, probably the season’s weakest episode. It is also positioned in the gap between Pusher and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, two broadly-loved episodes that serve as pitch-perfect examples of The X-Files both on- and off-format. In contrast, Hell Money is something a little stranger. It is not as conventional as Pusher, nor as radical as Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.”

Seeing is believing...

Seeing is believing…

Instead, Hell Money is an episode of The X-Files that loosely fits the show’s format. Mulder and Scully investigate a bunch of macabre murders where sinister forces are at work. However, in keeping with the broad themes of the third season, the evil in Hell Money takes a particularly banal form. There are no monsters here; at least, not any supernatural monsters. The only ghosts that haunt the narrative are metaphorical. There is a culture alien to our leads, but one a bit more grounded than extraterrestrials.

Hell Money is a clever and thoughtful piece of television that feels subtly and harrowingly subversive.

The writing is on the wall...

The writing is on the wall…

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Non-Review Review: Runner Runner

Runner Runner feels like it should be a lot more fun than it winds up being. For a film about gambling, it lays the cards on the table pretty quickly. It’s a story about an ambitious young man who is offered wealth and success, only to eventually discover that the price is nothing less than his soul. As such, our plucky young hero has to keep all the plates spinning as the walls close in around him, trying to keep his head above water and the wolves from his door. There are, of course, other clichés I can throw in there, but these will do for now.

As such, Runner Runner isn’t about originality or insight, borrowing heavily from far better character studies and morality plays – even the casting of Justin Timberlake as a nerdy internet-savvy college student feels like a riff on his role in The Social NetworkRunner Runner is all about the execution of these familiar high concepts and plot points. Unfortunately, the movie never seems too invested in its stakes, or too engaged with the game it is playing. When the chips are down, Runner Runner can nothing but fold.

I want to believe this is the same look Ben Affleck had when reading the internet's response to Batffleck...

I want to believe this is the same look Ben Affleck had when reading the internet’s response to Batffleck…

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