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44. Chinatown (#127)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Phil Bagnell, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

When a seemingly routine investigation into spousal infidelity evolves into a political scandal, private investigator J.J. Gittes finds himself navigating the dark underworld of thirties Los Angeles. Sinister conspiracies, local politics, private ownership of public utilities. As Gittes digs deeper and deeper, he uncovers the rotten foundations upon which the city was built.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 127th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Simple Investigation (Review)

A Simple Investigation is a quiet little episode.

This is particularly true in the context of the crowded second half to the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light radically upended the status quo and set the fifth season on a march towards A Call to Arms. The threat of war looms large over the second half of the season, following the admission of Cardassia into the Dominion. There is a creeping sense of inevitability to episodes like Blaze of Glory and Soldiers of the Empire.

Strange bedfellows...

Strange bedfellows…

At the same time, Deep Space Nine takes a little while to adjust to that dramatic shift. The Dominion and Cardassia only come back into focus with Ties of Blood and Water, the episode that reintroduces Weyoun to the series. Still, episodes like Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Business as Usual have a sense of weight to them as they offer up high-stakes family drama and arms-dealing morality plays. In contrast, A Simple Investigation feels relatively low key. It is not an episode with profound consequences or shocking revelations.

Instead, A Simple Investigation plays as a small-scale cyberpunk noir romance in which Odo falls head-over-heels in love with a guest star whom he will never see again. With all the chaos unfolding across the length and breadth of the fifth season, A Simple Investigation feels surprisingly… simple. The problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but A Simple Investigation still takes the time to fixate upon them.

Star struck.

Star struck.

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Jessica Jones – AKA 99 Friends (Review)

Jessica Jones has always been more interested in the style and aesthetic of noir than in its storytelling.

The show’s visual aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities hark to noir. Jessica Jones is a cynical hard-drinking private investigator, who routinely works cases involving cheating spouses. She narrates her harsh reflections of life as she studies the world through the lens of a camera. Meanwhile, sad saxophones play in the background of lonely establishing shots of New York as the city that never sleeps, while our hero works alone late into the night seemingly accomplishing nothing. That is to say nothing of the actual opening sequence, with its impressionistic flair.

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While Jessica Jones borrows a lot of the stock archetypes and set-ups associated with noir, its storytelling is more of a hybrid between conventional superhero drama and feminist psychological thriller. The problem is that Jessica Jones never actually feels comfortable with its main character’s profession. Despite the fact that Jessica Jones is a licensed private detective, the eponymous character spends precious little time actually detecting stuff. Jessica’s investigations are generally in pursuit of Kilgrave, with her profession treated as a background detail.

AKA 99 Friends demonstrates how uncomfortable Jessica Jones is with this aspect of its title character. Over the course of the show’s thirteen-episode run, AKA 99 Friends is the closest that the show comes to offering a straightforward “case of the week” episode. Unfortunately, it is pretty terrible.

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Jessica Jones – AKA Ladies’ Night (Review)

“New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around,” explains grizzled private detective Jessica Jones, the first line of Jessica Jones.

The line establishes two key themes going forward, running through the first season of the show. The more subtle theme is that of New York itself. Like Daredevil before it, Jessica Jones is rooted in a particular vision of New York; in its imagery and iconography. While Daredevil was arguably rooted in a version of Hell’s Kitchen that no longer existed, Jessica Jones seems at least a little more modern and more relevant. In AKA Ladies’ Night, and across the season, street names serve as an emotional anchor to the eponymous private eye. They are real and tangible places.

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The second theme is more immediately pronounced. Jessica Jones might just be the most sex-positive aspect of the shared Marvel Universe. Although the usual limitations on nudity are in effect, Jessica Jones seems far more comfortable with human sexuality and sexual dynamics than any of the studio’s earlier output. AKA Ladies’ Night sets the tone for the season, opening with an awkward sequence of quick and grotty sex in (and around) a parked car. The show starts as it means to go on, embracing sex as a part of the human condition.

AKA Ladies’ Night does an effective job of setting the tone for what will follow. It is an effective introduction to the world of Jessica Jones.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Ex Post Facto (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Ex Post Facto has a lot of problems.

It has logical problems. It has plot problems. It has character problems. It is difficult to fit within the framework of Star Trek: Voyager. It feels like a retread of A Matter of Perspective, a less-than-successful effort from the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation that Michael Piller produced. It is a bit of a mess, a bit too casual about everything, a bit too contrived.

And yet, despite all this, it almost works. Almost.

"This isn't the head massage I asked for!"

“This isn’t the head massage I asked for!”

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Non-Review Review: Sin City – A Dame to Kill For

It is very hard to get the same trick to work twice.

When it arrived in cinemas, Sin City was a visceral punch to the gut. It was powerful and shocking, and utterly unlike anything that had ever been seen before. It had its fair share of problems, mostly inherited from Frank Miller’s source material, but it managed the rare treat of being incredibly raw and stylishly slick at the same time. Even years later, the images and characters from Sin City linger in the popular consciousness.

It would be too much to expect the same from Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but the movie lacks the youthful energy that made the original such a classic and the memorable images that imprinted themselves on the collective imagination. Sin City arrived with a reckless irreverence and a whole new bag of tricks. Ultimately, A Dame to Kill For feels like an old dog, and you know what they say about those.

Green-eyed monster?

Green-eyed monster?

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Non-Review Review: Spider’s Trap

Spider’s Trap is a rather heavy-handed film. There are points where this works to the movie’s advantage – the stark black-and-white cinematography lends itself to exaggeration and effect. There are also points where the movie feels a little overly-earnest and awkward as it fashions its own noir tale about second chances and long-planned revenge. Beautifully shot by director Alan Walsh, Spider’s Trap is often endearing and charming, if not quite consistently brilliant. There are a few notable missteps, but there is also a lot to like.

Things aren't so black-and-white...

Things aren’t so black-and-white…

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