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61. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – This Just In (#122)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Stacy Grouden, 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, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

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Black Mirror – Black Museum (Review)

One of the more interesting aspects of Black Mirror‘s migration from Channel 4 to Netflix has been the subtle shift from British science-fiction horror towards American science-fiction horror.

The two episodes bookending the fourth season – USS Callister and Black Museum – exemplify this trend, episodes that would seemed very out of place when Black Mirror was “just” a quirky British anthology. USS Callister is obviously steeped in the iconography of a very American science-fiction institution, and while its male entitlement is not a uniquely American experience, that attitude has been more firmly tied into modern American politics than to  contemporary British politics.

Black Museum is even more overtly American, to the point that even the lead character’s British accent is revealed as a sham. The episode opens with a montage that practically screams “Americana!”, a big American car driving through a big American desert, a long stretch of road dwarfed by a seemingly infinite stretch of nothing, where even the jutting mountains provide a sense of impressive scale. Black Museum is set in the mythological America, a country so large that it occasionally seems to be nothing but nooks and crannies, populated with curiousities and eccentricities.

Black Museum unfolds within one such curiousity, a macabre collection of the grotesque and the ghoulish, a twenty-first century freak show run by a twenty-first century P.T. Barnum. However, over the course of the hour, the shape of Black Museum comes into focus. This is not merely a story embracing American trappings, it is also engaging with a distinctly American horror. Slowly, over the course of seventy minutes, Black Museum reveals itself as a science-fiction allegory about the exploitation of African American bodies and African American suffering; one of America’s original sins.

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Trump Trek: How Star Trek: Voyager is Perfectly Trumpian Star Trek…

Star Trek has built up a fascinating pop culture mythology around itself. There is an interesting dissonance between that memory and the reality.

The fond memory of a thing is not the thing itself. It is a cliché to observe that the line “beam me up, Scotty” was never actually said on the original show, but many casual fans associate the phrase with the franchise. Even hardcore Star Trek fans tend to gloss over the historical record in favour of affectionate memory. Many fans remember the pointed anti-Vietnam rhetoric of A Taste of Armageddon, Errand of Mercy or The Trouble with Tribbles. Few remember the pro-Vietnam tone of Friday’s Child, The Apple or The Omega Glory.

There is a tendency to believe that Star Trek has always been progressive, that the franchise has always embraced tolerance and actively pursued diversity. However, the reality is often more complicated than that. This why certain sections of the fanbase seem to react in abject terror to concepts like “Trek Against Trump”, a campaign organised by Armin Shimerman to protest the racism and xenophobia espoused by the (then-) candidate Donald Trump. One would imagine that rejecting sexism, racism, white nationalism would be a no-brainer for fandom, but it was not.

Indeed, this reactionary strain of fandom has come up time and again in the context of Star Trek: Discovery. Certain vocal sections of the fan base have objected to the diversity of the primary cast, despite the fact that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine arguably had a much more diverse ensemble. The backlash has reached the point that the cast have had to actually give interviews that racism is a very bad thing and that the franchise is very much about tolerance and understanding. Similarly, the news that the series would be overtly political has rattled some cages in fandom.

In theory, these reactions should be shocking. The Star Trek franchise has carefully cultivated a reputation for liberalism and idealism. Indeed, the Federation is quite explicitly socialist, something hinted at in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and explicitly confirmed in Star Trek: First Contact. On a more fundamental level, the franchise is about people from different cultures and with different values coming together to work in common purpose. It seems reasonably fair to argue the franchise would disagree with concepts like “the Muslim Ban” or “the Transgender Service Ban.”

However, the truth is that there has always been a reactionary streak lurking within the franchise. And nowhere has that reactionary streak been stronger than in Star Trek: Voyager, bleeding over into the creation and first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Far Beyond the Stars (Review)

I am black, I have spent time in a mental hospital, and much of my adult life, for both sexual and social reasons, has been passed on society’s margins. My attraction to them as subject matter for fiction, however, is not so much the desire to write autobiography, but the far more parochial desire to set matters straight where, if only one takes the evidence of the written word, all would seem confusion.

– Samuel Delany, The Straits of Messina

Keep dreaming.

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Iron Fist – Lead Horse Back to Stable (Review)

K’un Lun is a notable void at the heart of Iron Fist, even before the closing moments of Dragon Plays With Fire.

There are any number of terrible mistakes that were made during the production of Iron Fist, fundamental flaws that could easily have been avoided by a more competent and committed creative team. The series was assigned a showrunner with a horrific track record. The production team cast a lead actor without any raw charisma and who was incapable of doing his own stunts, while refusing to put the character in a mask. The series focused more on board room antics than kung fu fun. The Hand were used as the primary antagonist.

You shall not pass.

However, one of the most grating disappointments is the simple fact that a lot of the really fun and interesting stuff about Danny Rand happens long before he stumbles back into New York in Snow Gives Way. There is a solid argument to be made that Danny Rand is a third- or fourth-tier comic book character, but there undeniable cool parts of the Iron Fist mythos. None of them take place in the offices of Rand Industries. Iron Fist is the story of a man who gained his power by punching a dragon in a heart. Whatever an adaptation of Iron Fist should be, it should never be boring.

And, yet, for whatever reason, the first season of Iron Fist makes a point to consciously shoot around the more impressive and distinctive parts of the Iron Fist mythos, reducing its title character to a cut-rate (and ironically trust-fund) Matt Murdock. Danny left K’un Lun behind, and it was a terrible mistake.

The watcher on the pass.

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Non-Review Review: Get Out

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Get Out is a fantastic horror comedy from Jordan Peele.

The premise of Get Out is relatively straightforward, with Rose taking her African American boyfriend Chris home to meet her wealthy white parents. What follows is essentially a twenty-first century horror movie twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, in which Chris finds himself growing increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of Rose’s very liberal parents. There is an awkward unease to his visit with the family, beneath all the welcoming smiles and the mannered politeness.

Terrorvision.

Terrorvision.

Get Out is a brilliantly wry and ironic piece of film-making, building a very traditional horror movie around a very intangible discomfort. After all, racism is not always something that can be cleanly defined and measured, often reflected in implications and patterns more than individual statements and actions. Get Out masterfully plays on this tension of something so horrifying being rendered so ethereal, most notably through its repeated (effective) use of scare chords and horror angles making normal social interactions especially uncomfortable.

Get Out is a promising directorial debut from veteran comedian Jordan Peele, one that skilfully uses the flexibility and surrealism of conventional horror beats to build a well-observed and uncanny piece of social commentary.

Couldn't be Keener.

Couldn’t be Keener.

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Star Trek – The Savage Curtain (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Gene Roddenberry returns to Star Trek, to put the show to rest.

Two of the final three episodes of this third season originated with Roddenberry, putting paid to the idea that the veteran executive producer was entirely absent from the year. Roddenberry had departed the show at the start of the season, after issuing NBC with an ultimatum regarding the scheduling of his series. He had moved out of the Star Trek production offices and across the lot to develop his own projects. The standard narrative of the third season suggests that Roddenberry was no longer around to keep the show on the rails.

Holy space!Lincoln...!

Holy space!Lincoln…!

This is untrue, in a number of respects. Roddenberry was involved in the production of the third season, just not as actively as he had been. He was responsible for commissioning and championing a number of early third season episodes inherited by Fred Freiberger, including Elaan of Troyius and The Paradise Syndrome. He had even used his remaining leverage to shamelessly try to shoehorn merchandise into Spock’s Brain and Is There in Truth No Beauty? He was also drawing an executive producer salary and nabbed two late-season production slots.

Of course, this argument also relies on the assumption that Roddenberry understood Star Trek better than anybody else. Roddenberry had created Star Trek, but he was not the singular vision behind it. Writers like Dorothy Fontana and producers like Gene L. Coon were as responsible for shaping the show as Roddenberry in many respects. Roddenberry might have talked a good game, but he was also a producer who believed that The Omega Glory would have made a good pilot for the show.

Legion of Doom!

Legion of Doom!

If anything, there is something faintly damning about Gene Roddenberry’s triumphant return to the series at the end of its third year. Neither The Savage Curtain nor Turnabout Intruder are good episodes. In fact, the best thing that can be said about Roddenberry’s two final contributions is that The Savage Curtain probably isn’t quite as bad as And the Children Shall Lead or The Way to Eden. Still, both episodes feel regressive and awkward. Roddenberry’s writing is a reminder of just how far the show had come in the care of other producers.

However, at least The Savage Curtain is memorable.

Topping it all off.

Topping it all off.

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