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Star Trek: Voyager – Spirit Folk (Review)

The holodeck is horrifying.

This is nothing new. It has been this way since Star Trek: The Next Generation. The holodeck has been an unsettling concept from almost the very beginning, not least because of the kinds of stories that the holodeck suggests. From the moment that the Enterprise updated the holodeck in The Big Goodbye, there has been a creeping sense that the holographic creations are capable of comprehending the nature of their existence; in fact, that episode ends with the horrifying notion of McNary wondering what would happen to him when Picard turned off the program.

It’s the poster for the least exciting action movie of the late nineties.

This anxiety simmered in the background of the next few holodeck-centric episode, albeit less directly. Both Minuet in 11001001 and the Comic in The Outrageous Okona seemed to grasp their nature as computer constructs designed to serve specific purposes. They lacked the existential angst that McNary expressed in his final moments, but there was still something lurking just beneath the surface. If these entities were self-aware, could their creation and destruction be ethical? In Elementary, Dear Data, Moriarty brought the question to the fore; a hologram who wished to escape his captivity.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine largely stayed away from the holodeck (or the holosuite) for most of its run, barring small recurring gags about the crew’s recreational use of the facilities. Our Man Bashir cleverly side-stepped the issue of holographic self-awareness by casting the lead actors in the role of holographic supporting players. Nevertheless, the introduction of Vic Fontaine in His Way introduced yet another self-aware holographic character, his self-awareness taken for granted and only really articulated in episodes like It’s Only a Paper Moon.

A public (house) meeting.

In contrast, Star Trek: Voyager has only doubled-down on this idea that holographic characters are self-aware. This is most obvious with the EMH, the holographic doctor who struggled for recognition as a person in early episodes like Eye of the Needle and who made a long and gradual journey towards self-actualisation in episodes like Lifesigns and Real Life. However the show engaged with the idea of holographic self-awareness even outside of the EMH, with characters like Dejaran in Revulsion, Leonardo DaVinci in Concerning Flight, the aliens in Bride of Chaotica! and the town in Fair Haven.

To be fair, some of the arguments made by Voyager have been treated with the weight which they deserve. The EMH consciously asserts his personhood in Author, Author, a clumsy but well-intentioned final-season homage to The Measure of a Man. There is a sense that Voyager is capable of treating holograms with the same dignity that The Next Generation afforded Data on his own journey towards self-actualisation. There is something genuinely moving, for example, in the way that the degradation of his program in The Swarm is treated with the same gravity as the neurological decline of a flesh-and-blood character.

Mass appeal.

However, this also creates a strange dissonance in the episodes that don’t use the holodeck for high drama, and instead treat it as the setting for a romp or an adventure. Voyager seems to argue that every hologram is capable of reaching self-awareness, which means that every use of the holodeck to create new characters should be a momentous occasion. In the world of Voyager, every holodeck program, with the right combination of time and experience, can become a sentient being. This means that use of the holodeck should be something treated with weight and respect.

Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are nowhere near as charming as the production team seem to think that they are, but in the broader context of how Voyager approaches holographic characters, they are downright horrifying.

High spirits.

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79. Mandariinid (Tangerines) – This Just In (#247)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Zaza Urushadze’s Mandariinid.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 247th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #17!

A busy Scannain podcast, covering the week in film and other news.

This week, I’m joined by Grace Duffy, Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle, and Alex Towers to discuss the week in film – both Irish and international. The news includes coverage of Cannes, of Irish success at other international film festivals, and the upcoming release dates of notable Irish films. As usual, we also talk about what we watched, what is being released next week and what is currently in the top ten.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #14!

Skipping unlucky number thirteen for the moment, the fourteenth edition of the Scannain podcast is available for your aural delectation now.

This week, I’m joining Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle to discuss the week in film, including the passing of both R. Lee Ermey and Milos Forman. As usual, we discuss what we’ve watched over the past week or so, jump into the top ten, and talk about the new releases landing in Irish cinemas. Included in the discussion are films like Rampage, The Cured and Love, Simon.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.

Non-Review Review: Avengers – Infinity War

There is a solid argument to be made for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as blockbuster television series that only releases three or four films in a given year.

There’s a lot of evidence to support this argument, perhaps most notably the directors chosen for “phase two” of the grand experiment. Joss Whedon might have directed Serenity and Much Ado About Nothing, but he remains known for his game-changing work on television series like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse. Removing Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and replacing her with Alan Taylor only reinforced this sense. Drafting in the Russo Brothers from Community to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier cemented the notion.

Purple reign.

Indeed, the elevation of the Russo Brothers within the Marvel Studios hierarchy with Captain America: Civil War and with Avengers: Infinity War suggests the obvious similarities between managing the sprawling continuity of the shared cinematic universe and the day-to-day management of a television show, where individual instalments might be credited to individual authors, but it is also important to maintain consistency of tone and vision across the entire line. Infinity War suggests the sort of organisational ability associated with long-form television storytelling more than any single cinematic narrative.

There are moments in which this approach works. Infinity War is full of knowing winks and callbacks, allusions and references. There is a sense of set-up and pay-off to certain threads and arcs seeded across the eighteen previous films within the established brand. Characters get emotional scenes that play upon established relationships and dynamics, which are clearly articulated within the film itself, but building off years of watching (and rewatching) these actors play off one another in these roles. There is an undeniable weight to Infinity War that simply would not be possible without that television storytelling style.

Avengers assembled.

At the same time, there are reminders of the limitations of this approach, of the challenges of balancing individual stories with a larger plan for the narrative universe in which they unfold. This is particularly notable because Marvel Studios recently shifted towards a more director-friendly approach in some of its standalone productions. Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are both undeniably James Gunn productions. Black Panther could only have come from Ryan Coogler. Thor: Ragnarok worked as well as it did because of the unique directorial stylings of Taika Waititi.

Watching Infinity War, it becomes clear how far these directors deviated from the established style sheet, and the difference in approach between these directors and the Russo Brothers. It occasionally feels like Infinity War was constructed by people who watched those movies, without understanding why they worked as well. There is a tonal awkwardness when these characters are woven back into the fabric of the shared universe, in a manner that is occasionally unquantifiable but sometimes fundamental.

Guardians… Get In There?

Infinity War is good, clean fun. Perhaps too good and too clean. In order put the jigsaw pieces together, all of the rough edges have been sanded off. Anything that might generate friction has been stripped away, creating the impression of a very smooth and very functional storytelling engine. Midway through the film, Thor ruminates upon the existence of fate and how it has led him towards this particular moment and beyond to a greater purpose. Doctor Steven Strange perceives one single happy ending to this crisis.

There is a sense that Thor and Strange perceive the vast narrative machine of Infinity War working around them. It is an impressive machine, if a somewhat inhuman one.

Things look pretty Stark.

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Non-Review Review: Ready Player One

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Reader Player One is a very curious piece of cinema. It is an incredibly flawed piece of work, with a lot of its flaws so fundamental that they are threaded into the very architecture of the film. Screenwriter Zak Penn has offered a very thorough and involved reinvention of Ernest Cline’s source novel, a ground-up renovation of Cline’s catalogue of popular culture references and collection of narrative tropes. Indeed, Penn’s screenplay improves a great deal on the novel that inspired it; junking and reworking entire sequences, bulking up supporting characters, trying to find a beating human heart.

Worlds apart.

More than that, Ready Player One provides Spielberg with the opportunity to go “all out.” There is a sense watching Ready Player One that Spielberg has approached the film not as a collection of popular culture references and in-jokes, but instead as an attempt to reconnect with a younger audience. Whether or not Reader Player One is the right source material for such an attempt, there is no denying Spielberg’s energy and vigour. Ready Player One is a dynamic piece of film, Spielberg demonstrating all the technique for which he is known, but with an enthusiasm that puts younger directors to shame.

However, there is no escaping the biggest issue with the film remains its source material. The problem with Ready Player One as a film is that it is an adaptation of Ready Player One as a novel.

Back to the past.

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A Surprise Movie Is Good For the Soul: In Praise of Blind Screenings…

A number of major Irish and British cinema chains have begun offering “Secret” or “Surprise” screenings over the past few years. ODEON have their “Screen Unseen” brand, Omniplex have their “Secret Screenings”, the Irish Film Institute have their “Mystery Matinee”, Cineworld have their “Secret Unlimited Screenings.” This is to say nothing of what might be the biggest example on the cinematic calendar, the Dublin International Film Festival’s long-standing “Surprise Film”, which famously originated when Michael Dwyer discovered that he had accidentally left a gap in the original programme.

The basic premise of a “Surprise Film” is simple. The audience buys a ticket to the screening, often at a discounted rate compared to usual ticket prices. The audience is not told what the film is to be ahead of time, instead trusting the organisers of the screening to produce something interesting and compelling. The audience then gets to experience the movie completely blind, without any lead-in and without any hype. It is something to behold, a rare opportunity to see a movie completely blind in an era of heavy media saturation and social media gossiping.

Of course, the quality of these screenings is highly variable. Over the past year, Irish surprise screenings have included films as diverse as I, Tonya, Lady Bird, Snatched, The Florida Project, Ghost Stories, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Unsane, Battle of the Sexes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mindhorn, Baby Driver, The Big Sick. That is an eclectic list of films, and it is almost certain that there is something for everybody in that list and also something that will repulse everybody on that list. But that is the thrill of such screenings.

There is something to be said for the willingness of a movie goer to open themselves to new experiences, to step outside of their comfort zone and to take a risk on something that they are not anticipating. Even if those films are occasionally terrible, and especially if they were not films that the audience member would choose to see on their own terms.

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