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Irony, Thy Name Is Gump: “Forrest Gump” and the Art of Earnest Irony…

Forrest Gump is a movie that I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around.

On one level, it’s an incredibly sacchrine and simplistic exploration of the first fifty years of the so-called “American Century”, the turbulent second half of the twentieth century as navigated by a dim-wit with nothing but good intentions to guide his way. The eponymous character floats on the winds of history like a feather, a metaphor that bookends the film in a manner that is incredibly cloying. There is something undeniably condescending and overly simplistic in the notion of history in Forrest Gump, as a force that sweeps up men and nations without any rhyme or reason.

As such, it’s easy to be wary of Forrest Gump and its approach to history. Forrest Gump presents a very clean and sanitised accounting of the second half of the twentieth century, one in which there is absolutely nothing happening beneath the surface of American life, and in which there is no point even attempting to comprehend the myriad of forces at work on the country and its inhabitants. In this way, Forrest Gump plays as a trite moral fable. There is no point in even trying to understand the chaos that is the modern world. It is enough to be decent and oblivious, and things will work out fine.

At the same time, there has always been something lurking at the edge of the frame in Forrest Gump, beneath all the folksy trappings and the simplistic history lessons. It is too much to suggest that Forrest Gump has an edge, but it certainly has a point. Forrest Gump in many ways presents an avatar of the final fifty years of the twentieth century in its central character. The eponymous character is an embodiment of a certain American ideal, a personification of the American public that has been bewildered and confused by the speed and pace with which history seemed to move in that turbulent half-century.

With that in mind, there is something vaguely self-aware in Forrest Gump, something that perhaps simmers beneath the surface of the film. Gump is a likable and charming protagnonist, brilliantly brought to life by Tom Hanks in a performance that (deservedly) won him his second Best Actor Oscar. However, there has always been something uncanny in the film’s presentation of Gump as the character most ideally suited to the twentieth century, in contrast to supporting characters like Lieutenant Dan or Jennie. Forrest Gump is a movie that argues the only way to survive the twentieth century is as a fool and an idiot.

There’s always seemed something very wry and very cynical in that idea, buried beneath the film’s cotton-candy exterior.

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Non-Review Review: Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a very pretty mess.

Atomic Blonde is a stylistic showcase for director David Leitch and star Charlize Theron, a bruising and beautiful ballet of brutality with a killer soundtrack. Atomic Blonde is a film set in a funhouse mirror version of Berlin in November 1989, a movie that argues its location is more a state of mind than a physical place. The violence in Atomic Blonde is visceral, the mood tangible, the soundtrack delectable. Atomic Blonde is a feast for the senses.

Seeing red.

However, Atomic Blonde also makes next to no sense. The film is an action movie dressed in the attire of a nihilistic espionage thriller, and a little narrative confusion inevitably comes with the territory. These films are all but obligated to have twists and betrayals, macguffins and revelations, switches and levers. Atomic Blonde embraces that zany approach to plot and structure with relish. However, the problem with Atomic Blonde is more fundamental than all that. It often struggles to remain coherent from one scene to the next, from one set piece to another.

Atomic Blonde is beautiful chaos, an exploding collage that probably didn’t make any sense to begin with.

Putting her turtleneck on the line.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Waltz (Review)

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most “morally ambiguous” Star Trek series, with characters engaging in actions that Picard never would have considered on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In some ways, this observation makes sense. After all, Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek show to feature an extended interstellar conflict. Its primary cast is comprised of unapologetic terrorists and untrustworthy wheeler-dealers. The Federation were no longer the unambiguous good guys of the larger Star Trek universe, monolithic humanity giving way to factions like the Maquis or Section 31. Deep Space Nine never took Gene Roddenberry’s utopia for granted, daring to ask what it might look like when paradise found itself under threat.

Eat, pray, hate.

Eat, pray, hate.

However, Deep Space Nine also a very strong moral compass. While there are episodes that flirt with the idea of the end justifying the means, like In the Pale Moonlight or Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Section 31 are unequivocally monsters, and never proven to be a necessary evil. The Federation wins the Dominion War without the help of their attempted genocide in Extreme Measures. Even the Maquis are treated as ineffective in Defiant, and only romanticised through eulogy in Blaze of Glory.

More than that, Deep Space Nine clearly has a very strong social conscience. This is particularly true in episodes written by executive producer and showrunner Ira Steven Behr. Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II rage against the treatment of the homeless in contemporary society, sending three regular characters back in time to protest a nineties Los Angeles ordinance. Bar Association insists upon the right to collective bargaining. Far Beyond the Stars is a poignant ode to the power of science-fiction as a window to a better future.

Psycho Sisko!

Psycho Sisko!

Even in the context of the show’s more controversial elements, that moral compass shines through. While the Dominion War might lead to murky compromises, the show goes out of its way to cast the Founders as monstrous; the enslavement of the Jem’Hadar as explored in The Abandoned or of the Vorta as touched upon in Treachery, Faith and the Great River, the use of biological weapons in The Quickening, the disregard for soldiers’ lives in Rocks and Shoals. The Dominion is monstrous, as unequivocally evil as Nazi Germany.

As such, Waltz really serves to confirm something that has always been true of the series. Despite the familiar refrain that Deep Space Nine embraces “moral ambiguity”, the truth is that Deep Space Nine has always believed “that there is really such a thing as truly evil.”

Rocky road to recovery.

Rocky road to recovery.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Scientific Method (Review)

Scientific Method is in many ways the flip side of the coin to episodes like Nemesis, Distant Origin or Remember.

Nemesis, Distant Origin and Remember were effective demonstrations of Jeri Taylor’s approach to Star Trek: Voyager, a conscious effort to downplay the unique premise of the show in favour of pitching a more generic sort of Star Trek. With that in mind, Nemesis, Distant Origin and Remember constructed powerful allegories to examine pressing contemporary issues through the lens of science-fiction, resulting in episodes that represented one of the most defining aspects of the franchise: the sci-fi-tinged morality play.

Built into Voyager's DNA.

Built into Voyager’s DNA.

Not every example of this approach worked as well as those three episodes. Voyager began leaning into this more archetypal and generic Star Trek storytelling at the start of its third season, and the results were quite hit-and-miss. There were certainly brilliant examples in the seasons ahead, like Living Witness or Blink of an Eye. But not every allegory worked as well. Sometimes, the episodes were too didactic, like Critical Care or Repentance. Sometimes, the episodes were too generic, like The Chute. Sometimes, they were just ill-judged, as with Retrospect.

Scientific Method is a very bland and forgettable episode of Star Trek. It is not necessarily bad, but it is also not particularly memorable. In some ways, it demonstrates the limitations of the “generic Star Trek” approach to scripting for Voyager. Without a set of interesting and well-developed characters with strong dynamics in a series with a unique identity, an average episode can feel rather flat.

Give her head peace.

Give her head peace.

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The Lone Gunmen – Bond, Jimmy Bond (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

If The Pilot is a proof of concept, then Bond, Jimmy Bond is all about demonstrating that The Lone Gunmen can work on a weekly basis.

Second episodes are more important than most viewers realise. While television pilots typically enjoy larger budgets and looser schedules in an effort to demonstrate that a concept can work as a television show, second episodes are very much about demonstrating precisely how that model will be applied to the structure of a weekly television show. The second episode is about transitioning from a pilot into a weekly schedule. As such, Bond, Jimmy Bond is much more indicative of the first season of The Lone Gunmen than The Pilot was.

All set.

All set.

So Bond, Jimmy Bond is largely about laying groundwork for what follows, and for setting the tone for what comes next. The title makes this clear, introducing the fifth and final member of the leading ensemble. While The Pilot had made room for Zuleikha Robinson as the mysterious Yves Adele Harlow, Bond, Jimmy Bond introduces Stephen Snedden as the well-meaning but none-too-bright James “Jimmy” Bond. This is the cast as it will remain for the rest of the run, give or take a guest appearance from Kimmy the Nerd.

However, there are also changes behind the scenes. Rob Bowman directed The Pilot, his last piece of work with Ten Thirteen before leaving to concentrate on feature film work like Reign of Fire and Elektra. On the commentary to The Pilot, Frank Spotnitz affectionately joked that they couldn’t afford Bowman. That seems perfectly believable, given Bowman’s rising star. As such, Bryan Spicer was drafted in to direct Bond, Jimmy Bond. Spicer would direct the lion’s share of the show, helming six of the show’s thirteen episodes.

"I know kung-fu..."

“I know kung-fu…”

Spicer was very much the logical choice. He had only directed a single episode of The X-Files, but it was an important episode from the perspective of The Lone Gunmen. Spicer had helmed Three of a Kind towards the end of the show’s sixth season, the second Gunmen-centric episode and the show that provided a clear inspiration for the television series. In its own way, Three of a Kind was as much a pilot for The Lone Gunmen as Unusual Suspects or The Pilot had been, and Bryan Spicer was a perfectly logical choice for for the show’s signature director.

However, Bond, Jimmy Bond also cements some other details that will be important for the rest of the season. The Pilot had been an off-beat thriller, but it was a story with incredibly high dramatic stakes and a solid dramatic arc. The Pilot skewed, consciously or not, more towards a quirky thriller than an action comedy. As such, the wacky hijinks of Bond, Jimmy Bond are much more in line with the tone of the series than the grave threat that was posed in The Pilot. For better or worse, Bond, Jimmy Bond sets the agenda for the season ahead.

The last time Ten Thirteen got accused of mimicking The Matrix, everything worked out perfectly...

The last time Ten Thirteen got accused of mimicking The Matrix, everything worked out perfectly…

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The X-Files – all things (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Say what you will about The X-Files, but the show was never afraid to be weird.

all things is a very odd piece of television. It is moody and atmospheric, philosophical and meandering. It is hard to contextualise, even within the framework of a season as eccentric and disjointed as the seventh season of The X-Files. It doesn’t really work, but that’s not a big problem. The seventh season is full of episodes that don’t quite work. There is definite ambition here, and a clear desire to say something that means something to actor (and director and writer) Gillian Anderson.

Walk o' life...

Walk o’ life…

Anderson exerts a very conscious gravity over all things. She is not the first actor to write and direct an episode of The X-Files, but she is the first to write and direct an episode centring on her character. all things is an episode written and directed by Gillian Anderson, with a heavy emphasis on Scully. This is as close to a treatise on the character as the actress is ever likely to produce. Perhaps this accounts for the heavy atmosphere and solemn tone of the piece.

all things is a mess of an episode, but it is an interesting mess. It is an episode that feels consciously at odds with both the show around it and the character at its centre. It is an awkward (and occasionally ridiculous) piece of television, but it looks and feels utterly unlike any other episode of The X-Files. That has to count for something.

The beating of the world's heart...

The beating of the world’s heart…

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The X-Files – Signs and Wonders (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Religion is a major part of The X-Files. After all, what is the show but a meditation on faith?

In a way, this is an aspect that dates the series. While the show’s conspiracy theories and surveillance culture paranoia resonate as effectively in 2015 as they did in 1995, the show’s religious themes seem innocent and naive in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Signs and Wonders was broadcast towards the end of January 2000. It is hard to imagine the episode being produced even two years later, once the world had been so thoroughly shaken by acts of religious zealotry.

Snaking along...

Snaking along…

The X-Files exists as a product of the nineties, pre-dating what many have termed “the new atheism.” It exists against the backdrop of the Clinton era, in the space between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the start of the War on Terror. There are points when the shew resonates beyond that; The X-Files is often a profound and thoughtful meditation on issues like trust and faith. However, there are also points where The X-Files almost seems fused in time; where it seems like a moment has been captured in celluloid like a mosquito trapped in amber.

Signs and Wonders feels like one of those moments, sitting between the failed impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the triumphant election of President George W. Bush. This is what the last gasp of the nineties looks like.

Snake handling...

Snake handling…

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