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Non-Review Review: The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger could do with being a little stranger.

Gothic horror stories about haunted houses are often about more than just the building or the estate itself. They often serve as something at once larger and smaller; a prism through which the storyteller might examine both the society around the haunted house and the family unit trapped within. This is true of most haunted house stories, no matter where or when they are set. The Amityville Horror is about much broader familial anxieties than a mere spectre.

Stranger Things…

At the same time, it feels particularly true when applied to the more traditional and old-fashioned gothic haunted house stories, the kind of tales about old family estates in the middle of nowhere, that had once served to anchor political and economic power in a particular area, but had since watched modernity pass them by. These are the sorts of creepy houses frequently glimpsed in period pieces or older stories, whether in tales set in the England of Wuthering Heights or the New England of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Little Stranger belongs to this particularly strain of haunted house horror, unfolding on a once grand estate that is slowly surrendering itself to a rapidly-changing world. It is the story of a house in decay and decline, falling apart as it struggles to find its place in a world that might slowly shed the trappings of class hierarchies and where power might no longer be anchored exclusively in those families wealthy enough to own and maintain these grand estates.

A sorry estate of affairs…

The Little Stranger works better as a mood than as a story, a slowly unravelling portrait of a household coming face-to-face with its own obsolescence, unsure both of whether it can do anything to arrest this collapse or even whether it wants to. The tale maintains a steady sense of unease across its runtime, largely down to a tremendous performance from Domhnall Gleeson as a character who remains ambiguous and unsettling even as he positions himself at the centre of the narrative.

The Little Stranger suffers from a fairly conventional and predictable plot, with little novel or insightful to say, relying on a series of revelations that are quite clear even fifteen minutes into the two-hour runtime. The Little Stranger is a little too familiar for its own good, a little too comfortable and sedate to really pack the necessary punch.

Farraday is far away.
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Star Trek: Voyager – Persistence of Vision (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

In some respects, the second season of Star Trek: Voyager can be seen as a conflict over the future of the show.

On the one hand, Michael Piller had returned to the franchise following the failure of the television show Legend. With Ira Steven Behr overseeing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Piller returned to focus his attention on the second season of the younger Star Trek show. After all, the second season was a disorganised mess, with the production team struggling to get the necessary scripts together on time. Having a safe pair of hands on board to help guide the show might come in handy.

"It's a bridge AND a tanning salon, simultaneously..."

“It’s a bridge AND a tanning salon, simultaneously…”

On the other hand, Jeri Taylor had been around the show since Caretaker. She had taken over the reins after Piller’s departure and had supervised the tail end of the first season. Taylor had arrived on the Star Trek franchise just a year after Piller, and had been a vital part giving Star Trek: The Next Generation its unique voice and mood. Over the course of the second season, it became increasingly clear that Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor had very different visions for the future of Star Trek: Voyager, and those visions were coming into conflict.

History ultimately vindicated Jeri Taylor. The second season of Voyager was the last television season of Star Trek to be directly overseen by Piller, while Jeri Taylor become the guiding light of the third and fourth seasons of the show. Whatever problems might exist with those two seasons television, they are at least more stable and consistent than the first and second years of the show. It is, of course, arguable that Piller never got his own change to exercise his own vision of the show unimpeded – and so that is not a fair measure.

Cutting the Doctor down to size...

Cutting the Doctor down to size…

In a way, the conflict between Piller and Taylor’s versions of Voyager is quite clearly typified in this early run of episodes. The show had breezed through the four episodes left over from the first season production block, and desperately needed ideas to keep afloat. The senior producers rolled up their sleeves and got involved. Piller was largely responsible for Parturition and Tattoo, while Taylor oversaw Persistence of Vision. None of these episodes are perfect, but it is quite clear that Taylor is increasingly the show’s safest bet going forward.

Persistence of Vision is a very flawed episode of television, playing to some of Taylor’s more uncomfortable recurring motifs. However, it is much more interested in actually moving Voyager along than either of Piller’s contributions.

"The teacup that I shattered did come together."

“The teacup that I shattered did come together.”

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The X-Files – Schizogeny (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.

Schizogeny has a pretty terrible reputation among some (or even most) fans of The X-Files.

During The A.V. Club’s coverage of the show’s fifth season, Todd VanDerWerff suggested that it “just might be the very worst episode of The X-Files.” Andrew Payne described the killer tress as the series’ “worst monster of the week.” Moving away from any sort of objective coverage, The X-Files Wiki lists the fact that Schizogeny is “generally considered by fans to be one of, if not the worst, X-Files episode” at the very top of “notes” section on the episode. It is fairly safe to say that Schizogeny is not well-liked.

The woodsman...

The woodsman…

And there are a lot of very valid reasons for this. There is a lot about Schizogeny that is not good; more than that, there is a lot that is just plain terrible. The writing is clumsy, the plotting is hazy, the special effects are jumbled, the dialogue is awkward. It is very difficult to tell what is going on at certain points in the story, and a truly woeful central performance from Chad Lindberg as Bobby Rich does not help matters. Schizogeny is not a classic episode of The X-Files, by any stretch of the imagination.

However, it is nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests.

Go climb a tree...

Go climb a tree…

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Doctor Who: The Hungry Earth (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Hungry Earth originally aired in 2010.

Oh look! Big mining thing! Oh, I love a big mining thing. See, way better than Rio. Rio doesn’t have a big mining thing.

– the Doctor looks on the bright side of arriving in not!Rio

The Hungry Earth represents the biggest structural shift of Steven Moffat’s first season of Doctor Who. The writer would indulge in a number of radical structural changes over his time running the show, but his first season as showrunner conforms to the pattern of Russell T. Davies’ four full seasons. There’s the introductory present/past/future trilogy, the two mid-season two-parters and the gigantic two-part season finalé. The content of Moffat’s season might have been markedly different (actual romantic snog! a season building an arc that isn’t just references and easter eggs!), but the format was carried over faithfully.

Moffat’s following two seasons would get more experimental. For one thing, both seasons would be split in half. This allowed Moffat to offer the first genuine cliffhanger in the revival’s history to last more than a week, with a gap of several months between A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler. His second season would feature the first two-part season opener (and first one-part season finalé) of the revived television show. His third season would feature no two-part episodes, spread across two calendar years.

However, sitting at the tail end of his first season, The Hungry Earth feels like the strangest structural element of Moffat’s first year in charge of Doctor Who. It’s what would traditionally be the first two-parter of the season, pushed back towards the end of the year.

Balancing the scales...

Balancing the scales…

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The Picture of Dorian Grey at the Abbey Theatre (Review)

Neil Bartlett’s take on The Picture of Dorian Grey sounds like it might be a good idea on paper, but it doesn’t really come off in the execution. Oscar Wilde’s dark and sinister gothic horror has a timeless quality to it, but Bartlett’s interpretation of the material seems a little too shallow. Given the subject matter, you could argue that’s a good thing, but it sadly doesn’t make for the most satisfying of results.

Shades of Grey…

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Gotham After Dark: Batman Noir

We’re currently blogging as part of the “For the Love of Film Noir” blogathon (hosted by Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren) to raise money to help restore the 1950’s film noir The Sound of Fury (aka Try and Get Me). It’s a good cause which’ll help preserve our rich cinematic heritage for the ages, and you can donate by clicking here. Over the course of the event, running from 14th through 21st February, I’m taking a look at the more modern films that have been inspired or shaped by noir. Today’s theme is “comics noir” – noir filtered through comic book panels.

More than any other mainstream superhero, Batman is strongly linked with the film noir tradition. Dating back as early as his first appearances, straight through to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader has always inhabited a world which seems as fragile and broken as any noir protagonist. Just because he trades a trench coat for a cape (which, you’ll note, he makes a point to wear around him rather than just behind him) and a fedora for a cowl, don’t underestimate Bruce Wayne’s flirtation with the darker side of cinema.

The Dark Night?

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Non-Review Review: Batman – Gotham Knight

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. This is one of the animated feature films involving the characters from the creators of the original animated shows.

Batman: Gotham Knight was somewhat misleadingly advertised as a “missing link” between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Released in the run-up to Christopher Nolan’s superhero sequel, the film was clearly intended to call to mind the Animatrix, with a strong sense of anime flavouring the variety of shorts on display here. Each was produced by a different studio in a different style from a different author. The result is, as you’d expect, a mixed bag. Some stories are good, some stories are bad – there are interesting stories let down by poor animation and strong stories featuring weak animation. It’s a very mixed bag, which never really seems necessary or exceptional.

Yes, that is a batarang in his hand. And yes, he is happy to see you...

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