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Night Stalker – Burning Man (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

As with Three, it feels like Burning Man has some clever ideas masked by an ineffectual execution.

With ABC’s increasingly frustrating “no monsters” edict, Night Stalker creeps closer and closer to a more generic procedural. In some respects, episodes like The Five People You Meet in Hell and Burning Man suggest that the show’s aesthetic leans closer to that of Millennium than The X-Files; this a show increasingly preoccupied with notions of human (rather than supernatural) evil. It is worth noting that Millennium struggled in its own first season with how best to tell these kinds of stories.

Waxing lyrical...

Waxing lyrical…

Burning Man pushes the show closer to Millennium than ever; the superimposed words that appear over Kolchak’s opening and closing narration always evoked the opening credits of Millennium, but Burning Man even features a few of the quick flashes that were so exciting and innovative in Millennium‘s portrayal of evil. Burning Man also trades on the same rich hellish imagery that ran through Millennium, from the threat of hellfire to the demonic shape of the eponymous killer’s figurines. Burning Man even focuses on a forensic profiler.

However, the actual plot of Burning Man is fairly generic. The classic “he who hunts monsters…” story has become something of a genre staple, to the point where it is almost expected in stories focusing on forensic profilers. The primary plot of Burning Man evokes both Lazarus and Grotesque, both X-Files episodes that somewhat prefigured Millennium. It is a stock plot, with little to elevate it. The most interesting elements of Burning Man unfold in the background, as the show engages with its newsroom setting for the first time.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Xindi (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Delivering on change is always more difficult than promising change.

The first block of episodes in the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise struggle with the weight of expectation and the sense that the production team have no real idea of how to manage this sort of storytelling. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had consulted with Ira Steven Behr towards the end of the second season, suggesting that they wanted to model the storytelling loosely on the blend of episodic and serialised scripting that Behr oversaw on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It makes sense, as Deep Space Nine was the only Star Trek series to really engage with that sort of storytelling.

A primate example of the Xindi...

A primate example of the Xindi…

In hindsight, it seems a shame that the writing room on Deep Space Nine was allowed to disintegrate so thoroughly. Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler and Rene Echevarria departed immediately following What You Leave Behind. Ronald D. Moore migrated briefly over to Star Trek: Voyager, but quit quite promptly following creative disagreements with former collaborator Brannon Braga. The veteran writers on Enterprise came from Voyager. Brannon Braga, Mike Sussman, Phyllis Strong and André Bormanis were all writers who had come into their own working on Voyager.

Star Trek: Voyager a show that was incredibly episodic and seemed to actively resist serialisation even more than Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is not a reflection on the production team. Braga had lobbied to expand Year of Hell into a year-long story arc during the fourth season, but his proposal had been rejected. Discussing the Xindi arc, Braga has talked about how he wanted to tell a year-long Star Trek story, and it is telling that one of his post-Star Trek writing assignments was on 24.

The ascent...

The ascent…

Nevertheless, it meant that the writers working on Enterprise faced a sharp learning curve when it came to structuring the third season. The experience accumulated during the arc-building on Deep Space Nine was largely lost to the franchise, and a lot of the early part of the third season sees Enterprise making a number of teething mistakes. The early stretch of the third season struggles to pace itself, and it struggles to integrate stand-alone stories with its larger serialised arc.

The Xindi is a prime example of this, an episode that has a wealth of interesting ideas and great concepts, but one that stumbles in the execution.

Pointing the finger...

Pointing the finger…

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Venom: Circle of Four (Review)

If you had told me that I would enjoy a Venom collection quite this much, I would have laughed. I picked up the oversized hardcover collection of Circle of Four after enjoying Rick Remender’s Venom issues tying into the Spider-Island crossover. Which, I guess, is one of the benefits of such spin-offs and crossovers, I suppose. Anyway, intrigued by Remender’s take on the character, I was curious enough to take a look at this collection, featuring a crossover between Venom, Red Hulk, X-23 and the new Ghost Rider. Of course, two of those books had been cancelled by the time the crossover rolled around, so the whole “mini-event” was rolled up into Remender’s Venom. While Circle of Four isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking comic book storyline, or even a truly exceptional event, it does demonstrate that even the most conventional premise can work well in the right hands.

Back in black, baby!

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. V (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

And so we’re here. We’ve reached the end of Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX run, and one of the last things the author wrote for the character (he’d go on to write the Punisher: WarZone miniseries to tie into the film of the same name). It’s frequently regarded as perhaps the definitive run on the character, one held up as an example of what the Marvel MAX imprint is capable of. So, it’s been a long, sixty-issue journey to this point. And, I have to confess, I wasn’t entirely blown away by the run, or the conclusion to it.

Firing on all cylinders?

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The Thick of It – Series I (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. I’ll have some thoughts on the service at the end of the month, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

The British sure know their political comedy. The Thick of It is something like a spiritual successor to the cult British political comedies Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, from the mind of creator Armando Iannucci. Iannucci is perhaps best known for his work with Steve Coogan on the character of Alan Partridge, and there’s a lot of the same awkward comedy here. Perhaps it’s best to describe The Think of It as the ideological opposite of The West Wing, a bucket of cold British water chucked over America political idealism. It’s crass, profane, cynical, sly and absolutely brilliant.

Thick and thin...

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Non-Review Review: Route Irish

Ken Loach’s Route Irish is a fascinating little thriller, even if it does ultimately feel quite shallow and end in a rather unsatisfactory manner. Indeed, it’s very hard to construct a mystery where the audience already knows the answer, based on experience within the genre. Framed as an investigation into the death of a contractor in Iraq, the culprits behind the assassination are obvious from the moment the film starts rolling, which means that none of the twists and turns pack any punch – because we already know the answer. However, Loach is a director skilled at offering atmosphere and mood, and he makes a valiant effort to overcome the script’s rather obvious deficiencies.

Paying the ferryman...

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Non-Review Review: The Hurt Locker

I’ve always said that great movies take the audience on a trip somewhere, so it’s really appropriate that The Hurt Locker brings viewers on a trip to hell. Or as close as it is possible to get to hell on earth. A place where flies roam the bodies of the still living in the desert heat or where even the cats walk with limps and scars or where the dead are stuffed with explosives to mount an attack upon any member of the living not callous enough to know better than to care. This is Iraq, where anything – and anyone – could turn out to be fatal and this is the story of those who survive there, those who die there and – against unlikely odds – those who thrive there.

Sadly, Guy Pierce's improvised retelling of "Moon", complete with homemade space suit, did little for troop morale...

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