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Night Stalker – The Sea (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.

One of the interesting aspects of doing a long-running pop culture project is the subtle shifts that you can see taking place over time.

The realities of media consumption change over extended periods; in response, the methods of media production also change. It is not too hard to imagine a world where Night Stalker would have been cancelled by ABC six episodes into its run, ending on a cliffhanger with the remaining four episodes buried for all eternity. Television would have moved on to its next reboot, its next new launch, and the cycle would have continued. Night Stalker would have been dead and buried, even more of a genre curiosity than it is now.

Fenced off...

Fenced off…

There was a time when Night Stalker would have been consigned to history. At best, it might have been a footnote in Frank Spotnitz’s filmography, a point of reference in interviews and conversations about how mainstream American television treats science-fiction history. Had Night Stalker appeared (and been so promptly cancelled) even ten years earlier, it would probably be a curiosity on the IMDb pages of its cast and crew. The name would resonate with genre fans, and t would casually be dropped in career overviews. But it would largely be lost.

However, the reality of television had changed by the twenty-first century, the explosion in home media ensuring that even a six-episode failure like Night Stalker could receive a neatly-packaged DVD release and remain easily accessible to the generations that followed. In some respects, this feels like the worst thing that could have happened. The biggest obstacle between Night Stalker and the status of “cult classic” is ease of access to the show itself; the readiness with which the nostalgic refrain of “cancelled before its time” might be rebutted by simply buying the DVD.

A blast from the past...

A blast from the past…

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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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Non-Review Review: Spotlight

Nominally, Spotlight is about the exposé that ran in the Boston Globe identifying dozens of paedophile priests who had been shuffled around Boston parishes and the corrupt institution that sheltered them. Thomas McCarthy’s film never shies away from the horror stories told by the survivors of such institutional abuse, nor does it ignore the systems that were complicit in perpetuating and covering up that abuse. Running just over two hours, McCarthy’s film is meticulous and painstaking as it sorts through all the leads and follows the unravelling thread.

However, Spotlight is also about something bigger. It is a story about institutional structures as they exist, and how those structures are primarily motivated to protect themselves. The big reveal in Spotlight is not that the abuse is taking place, it is just how many people tried in how many different ways to expose that abuse to the cold light of day. The Catholic Church might be the most significant institution involved in the cover-up, but Spotlight suggests that the structures of Boston (and implicitly all over the globe) failed the people who needed them most.

spotlight4

Spotlight is a powerful film. McCarthy is not the most dynamic or exciting of directors, but his matter-of-fact presentation style suits the material perfectly. Towards the end of the film, journalist Matt Carroll jokes that he has started working on a horror novel to distract himself from the particulars of the case. Spotlight is very much a horror story, but a horror story where the discomfort is tied to the sheer inevitability. McCarthy’s camera is always definite and steady; a slow pan or zoom confirms what the audience already suspects, and is all the more effective for it.

McCarthy has assembled a fantastic cast, including John Slattery as Ben Bradley Junior. Bradley is the son of Benjamin Bradley Senior, the executive editor at The Washington Post who oversaw the Watergate coverage and who was played by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men. This creates a nice thread of real-life continuity for Spotlight, cementing its pedigree. McCarthy’s journalism epic is powerful stuff, and perhaps the most compelling endorsement of long-form investigative journalism to appear on screen in quite some time.

spotlight3

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Apparently You Don’t Have to See Inception to Know it’s Good…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist posting on this. Apparently the reviews for Inception are good… even from those who haven’t seen it. ExBerliner, a German magazine, published a review of the film before its first ever press screening (giving it three out of four). When confronted, the author confessed it was a fake, and acted as if there was nothing wrong:

I went into the theatre and sat down. A moment later, Ms. Troester came in and, as fate would have it, took a seat directly in front of me. I leaned forward and asked if she was from ExBerliner. She said that she was. Our conversation thereafter went like this:

“I’m just wondering, how did you get to see ‘Inception’? Friends of mine in L.A. only got to see that the other day. And I didn’t think there were any long-lead previews.”

For just a moment, it seemed to me, she looked slightly surprised. Then her composure recovered. She smiled. She seemed very agreeable. “We didn’t,” she replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“We didn’t see the movie. With our deadline…there was no time.”

“So why did you run a review on it?”

“We didn’t. We just did a piece.”

“But you gave it three stars.”

“Well, hearts,” she demurred. “Three hearts out of four.”

“Hearts or stars, lady – you reviewed the film.”

She shrugged. Her expression remained blandly serene; I might have been asking to borrow a cigarette.

I tried again: “What I don’t get is, if you hadn’t seen it, and you had no time to see it before you went to print, why do a review at all? You could have just previewed it…‘Oh, this looks pretty cool, it’s by the guy who did “The Dark Knight”…’”

Troester: “But that’s what we did.”

“No, you didn’t. You offered an opinion on the worth of the movie. You said, ‘here, Nolan’s not as original as he can be.’ You gave it stars, or hearts, or whatever. I’m sorry, but that’s a review.”

“If you’re unhappy, you should talk to the editor,” she said.

“But you’re the film editor. It’s your decision, surely?”

She hesitated. “I’m not sure why this matters to you.”

“If you hadn’t said that line about originality – if you hadn’t offered an opinion on the actual worth of the film – I mightn’t have so much trouble with this. But there’s no way you could have known whether Nolan was ‘as original as he can be’ this time around, or not. Or if it was a three-star movie and not a four-star one. Because you hadn’t seen it.”

It’s a great piece. I’ll spare you a rant about responsible journalism and all that sort of nonsense (if you want that, you can read my opinion of Variety’s decision to sell advertising space in its review section), but it’s just a crazy story about how fast and loose some publications can be. I won’t be seeing Inception until next Friday, and I won’t be writing a review before that.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit...

Policing Product Placement…

Product placement. Sponsorship. Payola. Image branding. Advertising. Astroturfing. The use of media – old and new – to sell products to people – whether they know you’re selling it to them or not. It has always been a bit of a thorny issue – with laws popping up against the legendary, but ultimately unproven, “subliminal advertising” – the flashing of words and images between the stills of a movie so fast that the audience couldn’t actually see them (though some would claim that these images made a subconscious impression, it has been difficult to consistently reproduce – but it was still banned). The last few decades in particular have seen a flurry of rules and regulations attempting to regulate what you can sell to who and how. But is advertising that easy to regulate?

"The Mac - for the insufferable genius in all of us..."

"The Mac - for the insufferable genius in all of us..."

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Non-Review Review: State of Play

Ah, the good old conspiracy thriller theory movie is alive and well, it would appear. For those not quite up-to-date on Hollywood’s fascination with sequels, remakes and adaptations, State of Play is a remake of the classic BBC miniseries of the same name. Following an old-fashioned investigative reporter as he attempts to investigate the death of a Congressman’s aide, he finds himself getting drawn closer and closer to a lion’s den of corruption and defense contractors. It’s a solid conspiracy movie elevated by superior performances that doesn’t really live up to its potential.

Russell Crowe attempts to explain the plot twists of State of Play to a confused Ben Affleck...

Russell Crowe attempts to explain the plot twists of State of Play to a confused Ben Affleck...

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