Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives








  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

“Black Panther”, “Crazy Rich Asians”, and American Dreaming in 2018…

The silver screen is not just a window, it is occasionally a mirror as well.

The cinematic gaze reveals a lot. Not just about the object in focus, but about the filmmaker (and the audience) behind the gaze. Although independent and arthouse cinema is thriving in the twenty-first century, and though home media is fundamentally changing the way that people consume media, the cinema will always be a communal space. A group of people sitting in a room together, bathed in projected light. There are obviously debates to be had about to what extent cinema reflects culture as much as it acts upon it, but there is undoubtedly a symbiosis there.

Cinema reveals a lot about contemporary culture, and not just “worthy” cinema that tends to get cited by critics as “the most important” or “the most timely” media of its particular moment. Indeed, there is perhaps something more revealing in looking at media that doesn’t consciously invite these comparisons, that doesn’t trumpet the manner in which it speaks to a particular moment. Sometimes it is more revealing to look at the films that aren’t saying anything, or at least are not consciously or overtly saying anything, about the current political moment.

In fact, it’s often a lot easier to get a sense of what is bubbling through the popular consciousness (or even the popular subconscious) by looking at low-budget “disposable” fare like horror movies than it is be interrogating more respectable and self-conscious fare. It is no coincidence that the past decade has seen a resurgence in haunted house and home invasion horror like The Conjuring, The Strangers, The Purge or even Don’t Breathe, reflecting anxieties about the American home as a site of horror in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Popular cinema is similarly a fascinating prism through which to examine contemporary American culture, to get a sense of how the United States sees both itself and its relationship with the rest of the world. It’s a glimpse into the nation’s psyche, offering a messy and dynamic dive beneath the polished exterior. It cuts through a lot of contemporary politics, foregoing accuracy in favour of a general aesthetic. It is a sketch more than a portrait, but that sketch can be instructive and revealing of itself.

In particular, the twin releases of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians over the past year suggest something interesting about modern conceptions of the American Dream.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Trek: Voyager – Child’s Play (Review)

Interesting, isn’t it?

What?

With all their technology, their opportunity to explore the galaxy, the thing they want most is to get home.

A Trek away from the Stars.

Child’s Play is a fascinating episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in that it might be seen as a firm rejection of some of the show’s core conservatism.

Voyager has always been the most conservative of the Star Trek franchise, the series most likely to panic about gang violence for two whole seasons starting in Caretaker or to rail against immigration in Displaced or to voice its anxieties about refugees in Day of Honour. More than that, what are episodes like Remember or Distant Origin or Living Witness or Memorial but expressions of literal anxieties about the erosion of the certainty of history to postmodernism and moral relativism? At its core, Voyager is a series about nostalgia, about the yearning to recapture what once was, how the only journey is the journey home.

“Everything the light touches is your kingdom…”

Child’s Play is interesting as a firm rejection of the idea of the traditional family unit in favour of a more modern (and less rigidly defined) idea of a “found family.” It is a story about how a child’s best interests do not always lie with their biological parents, and about how some of the strongest and most loving bonds in a young person’s life can be forged by chance rather than biology. Child’s Play is essentially an ode to the kind of complicated family dynamics that were entering the mainstream at the turn of the millennium, a staunch defense of a liberal and inclusive definition of family.

More than that, the episode also seems to be making several very pointed jabs at Voyager‘s traditionally conservative outlook.

“I want to be out there…”

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Cold Fire (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.

Cold Fire is an episode that exemplifies the feeling that second season’s treading water.

Cold Fire opens with a somewhat unconventional recap of Caretaker. Unlike most “previously on…” sections of Star Trek: Voyager (or the Star Trek franchise as a whole), this block is narrated by Majel Barrett in-character as the ship’s computer. It becomes clear that Cold Fire is interested in following up on the dangling threads left by Caretaker, with the crew of Voyager encountering the female mate alluded to in Janeway’s conversations with the eponymous Nacene character from Caretaker.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

This should be a big deal. After all, the Caretaker is the character responsible for plucking Voyager and the Val Jean out of the Alpha Quadrant and depositing them on the other side of the galaxy. Finding another being with a similar amount of power presents a very real and tangible opportunity for Janeway to get her crew home. If the Caretaker could pull them all the way across the Milky Way, then it stands to reason that Suspiria could send them all the way back. Cold Fire presents a potential end to Voyager’s journey.

Unfortunately, Cold Fire never really does anything with that storytelling angle. Even when Janeway comes face-to-face with Suspiria at the climax of the episode, she never asks the powerful entity to send her crew home. So Cold Fire feels like an episode that spends forty-five minutes walking in circles, accomplishing little of note.

"It's probably just the inertial dampeners acting up..."

“It’s probably just the inertial dampeners acting up…”

Continue reading

Millennium – Wide Open (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The middle stretch of the first season of Millennium is preoccupied with suburban horror.

In The Well-Worn Lock, Wide Open and Weeds, Millennium presents the audience with threats to supposedly “safe” suburban families. In each case, the threat is shown not to come from outside these homes, but is instead nestled snugly inside. In The Well-Worn Lock, Joe Bangs is a respected family patriarch and a monster. In Weeds, Edward Petey is both an active member of his gated community and a predator. Wide Open is perhaps a little more sensationalist, featuring a serial killer who sneaks into houses that are on display, hiding inside until after dark, and then brutally murdering any adults in the home.

Home (in)security...

Home (in)security…

There is an intriguing thematic continuity here between what might loosely be termed “the suburban trilogy.” Indeed, Weeds was shuffled around in the broadcast order so it would not air directly after Wide Open, perhaps because of this similarity. This thematic continuity is quite striking, like the presence of Scully proxies and surrogates in the stretch of the second season of The X-Files running from One Breath to Irresistible or the subtle fixation on “cancer” from the end of the third season into the fourth season of The X-Files.

Like The Well-Worn Lock before it and Weeds after it, Wide Open is not particularly elegant in its meditations about suburbia under siege. The story is a bit clunky, prone to the same trashy exploitative excess that can be found in some of the weaker moments of the first season. Nevertheless, Wide Open largely works – it manages to tap into a fairly universal fear in a decidedly unsettling manner, inviting the audience to wonder whether there may actually be monster lurking in their own closets or under their own beds.

Standing guard against the world...

Standing guard against the world…

Continue reading

The X-Files – Home (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Home is a big one.

It is an episode that is frequently ranked among the best that the show ever produced. It is an episode that many viewers remember quite clearly, even if they only saw it once years earlier. It was the first episode of the show to receive a viewer discretion warning on initial broadcast and was famously never repeated on the Fox Network. “It had one airing and then it was banned,” writer Glen Morgan quipped. “Jim and I don’t get rerun money for that.” It is also one of the rare episodes of The X-Files that is not explicitly paranormal in its subject matter, instead wandering into the macabre and the taboo.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Home also marks the return of writers Glen Morgan and James Wong to the series, following the cancellation of Space: Above and Beyond. With the debut of Millennium looming, the production team on The X-Files was under pressure. Fox had convinced Morgan and Wong to return to Ten Thirteen in return for producing a pilot for The Notorious Seven, one the duo’s long-gestating ideas. Morgan and Wong would produce four episodes of the fourth season of The X-Files and three episodes of the first season of Millennium.

Home is the first of their four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files, and it sets the mood quite well. Returning from Space: Above and Beyond, the two seemed to be bristling with an electric energy and a palpable frustration. While not all four scripts are unqualified masterpieces, they each serve to push The X-Files further than it has gone before. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Home is that it is the most conventional of these four explosive scripts.

The mother of all problems...

The mother of all problems…

Continue reading

Space: Above and Beyond – The Farthest Man From Home (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.

Due to network anxiety about the investment in Space: Above and Beyond, The Pilot had a very clear three-act structure building to a very explicit resolution. Not only did The Pilot figure the beginning of the war with the aliens, it also featured a crucial moral-boosting victory. It ended with the squad fully-formed and ready for action. It packed a lot of stuff in, and worked quite well as its own self-contained story; even if it left a host of broad narrative threads for the rest of the series to follow.

The Farthest Man From Home is pretty solid as far as first standalone episodes go. Free from the constraints of having to work as a potential movie-of-the-week, The Farthest Man From Home is free to do a little development and foreshadowing, but doesn’t have to wrap up everything in a neat bow by the time that the closing credits role. It’s also spared a lot of the exposition that made The Pilot feel so heavy – Hawkes’ status as an InVitro is fleetingly mentioned, and the Silicates don’t come up.

It's a wasteland out there...

It’s a wasteland out there…

Instead, The Farthest Man From Home is free to focus on the story that it wants to tell, and in marking out narrative space  for the development of both the larger war arc and West’s own personal journey. The Farthest Man From Home is a rather loose episode, but it’s loose in a way that makes sense for a second episode. It eases the audience into the world of Space: Above and Beyond a lot more fluidly than The Pilot did.

That said, there’s still an awkwardness here as Morgan and Wong struggle to figure out what the show is about and the form that it will eventually take. Examined in hindsight, while The Farthest Man From Home establishes a lot of important stuff for the show, it is also clearly a work in progress for the series – an early iteration of a show that would grow and change over the course of its first season. This is perhaps the second draft of Space: Above and Beyond, a solid base to build on for what lies ahead.

Tag it and move on...

Tag it and move on…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Eye of the Needle (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Eye of the Needle really should be a bigger deal than it is.

Looking at the basic premise of Star Trek: Voyager, a story like Eye of the Needle should be an “event.” It should, at the very least, be a mid-season finalé. Ideally, the episode would serve as the season finalé, bringing a sense of closure to year of adventuring by our crew, suggesting that there is some measure of hope for them. Perhaps home is not as far away as it might seem.

"Hm. You appear to have beamed me up in my pyjamas..."

“Hm. You appear to have beamed me up in my pyjamas…”

Voyager is a show about a ship stranded on the far side of the galaxy. The crew are isolated from friends and family. The return journey will take seventy years. It is quite possible that this will be a generational voyage. The Voyager crew will return home to a world that has changed without them. It’s heartbreaking even to think about.

So the ship’s first chance to get home should be something to get excited about. It should be cause for celebration; it should feel like a lifeline dangling just within the reach of our characters. There should be a sense that this sort of think might only happen once, and everybody best be prepared for it. Instead, it happens six episodes into the season, and the audience spends forty-five minutes waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Thoughtful Janeway pose #452...

Thoughtful Janeway pose #452…

Continue reading