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The X-Files – Max (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.

Reportedly, Tempus Fugit and Max took twenty-eight days to shoot. Assistant director Tom Braidwood described the two-parter as a “pretty challenging” effort for the show. The series built an air plane cabin specifically so that it could film those fantastic abduction sequences. There are fields and hangars strewn with dead bodies and the wreckage of a passenger air plane. By just about any definition, Tempus Fugit and Max comprise the most ambitious and large-scale two-part episode that the show has produced to date.

Paradoxically, this is also the smallest two-part episode that the show has produced to date. It brings back a minor guest star from a first season episode, only to kill him off casually in the teaser for the first episode. None of the big players show up for the drama. The most significant consequence of Tempus Fugit and Max is the death of Agent Pendrell. In many ways, Tempus Fugit and Max is the post-mortem story of a little guy who was crushed by the weight of something much larger than himself – caught between forces of immeasurable power.

In-flight serve will now resume...

In-flight service will now resume…

Tempus Fugit and Max do very little to advance the central mythology arc, which has stalled somewhat in the fourth season. However, they manage to encapsulate so many of the core themes of that central storyline. This is a story about the victimisation of the weak by the powerful; this is a tale about the sacrifices that are made in pursuit of the truth; this is a reflection on the appeal of conspiracy theory; this is a morality play about balancing lives against “the greater good.”

In many ways, Tempus Fugit and Max are the quintessential mythology episodes, despite not being that closely related at all.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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The X-Files – Tempus Fugit (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.

Conspiracy lives in the gaps.

Conspiracy theories grow in the gaps of history. They multiple and divide in the absences on the historical record. They entangle and dissemble in the lacunas of memory. In many ways, conspiracy theories represent an attempt to impose order upon a chaotic universe, to know the unknowable. They grow from doubts and questions, holes and voids. Every ellipsis, every redacted line points towards infinite possibilities. Every “no comment” is but conformation of the worst possible outcome.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

Tempus Fugit opens with a nine-minute gap before a plane crash that claims over one hundred lives. Max closes with another nine-minute gap that sees the ever-elusive proof slip through Mulder’s fingers once again. However, Tempus Fugit and Max are not truly “conspiracy” episodes. Characters like the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the Well-Manicured Man, Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias are all absent. Even the sinister functions of shadowy government officials are outsourced to “Cummins Aerospace”, a government contractor never mentioned on the show before or since.

Instead, Tempus Fugit and Max are focused on the little people trying to assemble what they can from these gaps. Mike Millar is an honest and hard-working member of the National Transportation and Safety Board trying to piece together a crashed aeroplane. Max Fenig is trying to piece together some meaning for all his suffering. Mulder and Scully are trying to piece together the truth. Even the aliens themselves seem to be searching. Tempus Fugit and Max are populated with characters trying desperately to make sense of the gaps.

Fly by night...

Fly by night…

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Non-Review Review: Collateral

Collateral is a masterpiece. I think the only Michael Mann movie I’d rate against it would be Heat, which puts it in very good company. It’s probably my favourite neo-noir film, and I actually ranked it as my favourite film of 2000-2009. There are a lot of reasons for that: I think it’s the best example of digital video cinematography I’ve ever seen, the script is superb, the two leads are fantastic and it’s an utterly compelling examination of urban isolation. The screenplay was originally set in Manhattan, but I think the decision to transpose the story of a cabbie and his client to Los Angeles was actually quite clever – there’s generally an eerie emptiness and anomie to how life in Los Angeles is portrayed, and Collateral captures it perfectly.

Top gun...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. IV (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.

I don’t know. It seems like, at times, I run hot and cold to Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX run. It’s frequently cited as one of the great runs of modern comics, and there are moments when – if I squint – I can see hints of that masterpiece everybody is taking at. At other times, it seems I’m wandering in the desert, staring at a perfectly functional comic book, trying to figure out what everybody is making such a big fuss about. This penultimate collection of Ennis’ run contains two great examples of this. On one hand, the collection opens with the incredibly pedestrian Man of Stone, while it closes with the smarter-than-it-appears Widowmaker. Neither story is a masterpiece, but the latter has a lot more insight than I’ve come to expect from the series, while the former takes an interesting premise and does nothing with it.

The Punisherette?

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. III (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.

I think I’m finally getting the hang of Ennis’ run on Punisher MAX. It seems that it’s pretty much positioned between two extremes: bleak nihilistic cynicism and depressing absurdist black comedy. I don’t think that any collection of Ennis’ work illustrates these two extremes quite as well as this one, collecting both The Slavers and Barracuda – the former undoubtedly Ennis’ darkest work on the title and the former probably the most ridiculously cynical comedy the writer has drafted for the character (at least on the MAXline). It certainly makes for one weird cocktail.

Frankly my dear...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Born (Review/Retrospective)

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.

There are comic book characters that are so closely tied to one particular writer that you pity anybody trying to write them. The X-Men have Chris Claremont (although I do love Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run), Daredevil has Frank Miller (although he also has Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker), Hulk has Peter David and (I firmly believe) Green Lantern has Geoff Johns. Somehow, through some fluke, occasionally comic book characters manage to stumble across a writer who fundamentally understands them. I’d argue that this is the benefit of having these characters survive in print – none of these runs were by the original authors. Anyway, to get to the point, the Punisher has Garth Ennis.

The last Castle...

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