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Non-Review Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain places a prestige veneer on the weirdness of the recent “man’s best friend” tear-jerker subgenre.

A Dog’s Journey and A Dog’s Purpose were a rough-and-ready example of the genre, films exploring the complicated world of human beings through the simple mind of a dog. There was an almost endearing clumsiness to how ruthlessly those films targeted the audience’s emotional vulnerability; A Dog’s Purpose used the gimmick of reincarnation as a narrative “get out of jail free” card, making a point to kill off its canine protagonist no fewer than three times, understanding this as a shortcut to the audience’s tear ducts.

“It’s about the good walk,
And the hard walk…
… It’s a beautiful ride.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a more prestigious product, executed with greater craft. That doesn’t mean that The Art of Racing in the Rain is any less surreal or eccentric than other entries in the subgenre, nor should it imply that The Art of Racing in the Rain has pushed that subgenre beyond the underlying assumptions that the bodily functions of a dog are hilarious. Instead, the polished exterior of The Art of Racing in the Rain is all about execution as opposed to content. The film makes the same points in the same ways, but shifts its tone to approximate sophistication.

The results are no less uncanny for that attempt at sophistication. If anything, The Art of Racing in the Rain feels all the weirder for how it juxtaposes the sillier and goofier “talking animal movie” tropes with the sensibilities of more earnest fare. The Art of Racing in the Rain is aggressive and merciless in its attempt to conjure up an emotional response to its over-extended central metaphor, but the film’s surreality lingers much longer.

Thinks are looking pup.

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The X-Files – Hellbound (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Your hand travelled
the Aztec trail
down my breast.
The sun popped out like the egg
of a platypus
and aspens pattered
their leafy Ur-language.
All this has happened before.

The jellied landscape
was furrowed with happiness.
You worshipped me
like the goddess of warm rain.

But in each corner of our eyes
stood one of Maxwell’s demons
loosening the molecules
of rise and fall
back and forth.

And in and out, round and about,
in and out,
through the cracked lens of the eye
unendingly,
surface behind glass
entropy mounted
in the random and senseless universe.

All this has happened before.
All this will happen again.

– Miroslav Holub, Lovers in August

Uncomfortable in his skin...

Uncomfortable in his skin…

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Millennium – Bardo Thodol (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

As with Saturn Dreaming of Mercury and (to a lesser extent) Darwin’s Eye, Bardo Thodol continues to boldly push Millennium towards abstraction.

The plot of Bardo Thodol is actually fairly basic, in the same way that the plot to Darwin’s Eye is fairly basic. Mister Takahashi has done terrible things. Fleeing the Millennium Group assassin known only as Mabius, the mysterious scientist seeks refuge in a Buddhist Temple. As his body turns against him, Takahashi seeks to atone for his crimes. At the same time, an FBI raid on a cargo ship turns up an ice box packed with severed hands. Inevitably the two threads turn out to be intertwined.

Give the man a hand...

Give the man a hand…

However, as with a lot of Millennium scripts, the details of this fairly simple plot are delightfully askew. Bardo Thodol feels almost like a game of Millennium word association. There are cloning experiments, assassination attempts, meditations on reincarnation, actual meditation, discussions of forgiveness, ominous messages delivered by computer virus, lots of atmosphere, an oppressive sense of paranoia. Adjectives like “cluttered” and “stuffed” come to mind, to the point that it feels like a lot of Bardo Thodol ended up on the cutting room floor.

As with Darwin’s Eye, it feels like Bardo Thodol works better as a mood piece than as an example of storytelling television. It is not a hugely satisfying forty-five minutes, but it is always interesting.

Yes. Yes the show is.

Yes. Yes the show is.

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The X-Files – The Field Where I Died (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.

Morgan and Wong’s four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files are utterly unlike any other stories in the show’s nine-season run. Experimental, bold, confrontational; these four stories stretch and pull at The X-Files, as if eager to see just how far the hit show will bend.

The Field Where I Died is probably the weakest of these four episodes, but it is also the most ambitious. It is a script with big ideas and a willingness to commit to those ideas. There is no modesty here, no hesitation. There is a sense that Morgan and Wong are committing wholeheartedly to their themes and their concepts. The Field Where I Died is an episode that rubs quite a lot of people the wrong way, for a number of different reasons; however, the episode never pulls its punches. It never holds back. It never tries to be anything that it is not.

Far afield...

Far afield…

There is a lot to admire here. The Field Where I Died is not an episode with a simply formulaic concept or a conventional structure. It looks and feels completely unlike any other episode of the show. Even when the show touched on similar themes in its final season, the result was radically different. Hellbound is a much more conventional episode than The Field Where I Died. More than Home or Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Never Again, this is an episode that really seems like an odd fit for The X-Files.

Then again, that may be the beautiful thing about The Field Where I Died, for all its many flaws. It is utterly unlike anything else on television in the nineties. The fact that it can produce an episode of television so unique and incomparable is ultimately what makes The X-Files feel like The X-Files. The fact that The Field Where I Died feels so unconventional and eccentric is precisely what makes it a worthy episode of The X-Files.

Another roaring success for Mulder...

Another roaring success for Mulder…

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The X-Files – The List (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

The List taps into a lot of contemporary anxieties.

As with Chris Carter’s last stand-alone script for The X-Files, there is something very timely about The List. The late second season medical conspiracy thriller F. Emasculata had aired at a point where national anxieties about Ebola and other killer diseases were at a high, with the high-profile release of Outbreak and the publication of Crisis in the Hot Zone. One of Carter’s strengths as a producer and a writer was his ability to take the national pulse, and to make The X-Files reflect whatever made nineties America uncomfortable.

A capital idea...

A capital idea…

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Non-Review Review: The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy is often unfairly dismissed as an inferior attempt to emulate the success of Dracula. It’s from the same writer, John L. Balderston, and the credits are even set to the same music – the powerful Swan Lake theme that opened that other iconic horror. I’d argue that the influence of Frankenstein can also be keenly felt on the picture, and not just in its leading actor. However, I think The Mummy is often unfairly overlooked when examining the Universal Monster Movies, playing more like a creepy existential romantic epic than a conventional creature feature horror film.

He needs his beauty sleep…

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