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117. Before Sunrise – “Two Guys Die Alone 2019” (#204)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a Valentine’s treat. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.

An arguing couple on a train unexpectedly bring two much younger people into contact; Jessie is a seemingly cynical American who has found himself bumming around Europe while waiting for a flight home while Celine is a student returning to Paris. On a whim, the two young people decide to spend one magical night together, knowing that it may well be the only time that they ever spend together.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 204th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Fair Haven (Review)

Well, at least it’s better than Up the Long Ladder.

We’ll take what we can get.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Someone to Watch Over Me (Review)

Someone to Watch Over Me is a decidedly atypical episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The episode’s subplot, focusing on Neelix and a disorderly alien ambassador, harks back to the old diplomacy subplots of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the crews would be asked to ferry ambassadors around only for terrible things to happen. There are any number of examples of that story template across the two earliest incarnations of the show; Journey to BabelElaan of Troyius, Is There in Truth No Beauty?Lonely Among UsLoud as a Whisper, SarekThe PriceMan of the PeopleData’s DayViolationsLiaisons.

The EMH rose to the occasion.

To be fair, Voyager has done a couple of these episodes before. There are a number of episodes in which the ship acts as a diplomatic courier shipping aliens from one destination to another or welcoming on board representatives of an alien culture; the subplot of Innocence comes to mind, as does the set-up of Remember. However, by and large, these diplomacy-driven subplots are a lot less frequent on Voyager than they were on the original Star Trek or The Next Generation. As such, the Neelix subplot feels very much like a throwback.

However, the primary plot of Someone to Watch Over Me feels very much like an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an intimate romantic character study about an attraction between two individuals. Someone to Watch Over Me is very much an archetypal love story, one without the flavour of adventure or stakes defines other Star Trek romances like Captain’s Holiday or Counterpoint or Gravity. This is a low-stakes interpersonal attraction, very much in the style of Looking for Par’Mach In All the Wrong Places, His Way or Chrysalis.

A snap decision.

In fact, the basic plot of Someone to Watch Over Me is so archetypal that it can be traced back to number of classical inspirations. This is nothing new. The Star Trek franchise has long borrowed inspiration from various classics; Favourite Son and Bliss owe a great deal to The Odyssey and Moby Dick, for example. However, the choice of influences on Someone to Watch Over Me feels more like Deep Space Nine than Voyager; it draws from Pygmalion and its various adaptations, along with the early eighties comedy My Favourite Year.

The result is a decidedly strange blend of classic Star Trek storytelling that feels fresh and exciting in the context of Voyager. In many ways, Juggernaut was a showcase of Voyager‘s preference for blockbuster plot-driven storytelling. However, Someone to Watch Over Me is something much more compelling and intriguing. Someone to Watch Over Me is a character-driven episode of Voyager, and a very impressive and engaging one at that.

Putting the “ass” in ambassador.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Counterpoint (Review)

Counterpoint is a spectacular episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a highlight of the fifth season and of the seven season run in general.

Counterpoint is meticulously constructed, put together with a great deal of care and consideration. This is most obvious in the plotting and characterisation in the episode, in the way that the focus of the story remains constant while peeling back the layers on the characters involved. Too many Voyager episodes indulge in a contrived sequence of “… and then…” plotting, while Counterpoint is an episode that understands what it is about and is content to explore its ideas and its characters to their logical conclusions.

Playing it pitch perfect.

Counterpoint benefits from two superb central performances. Mark Harelik is one of the strongest one-shot guest stars to appear on Voyager, playing Kashyk as an endearingly ambiguous figure caught half way between a conventional romantic lead and a fascist thug. However, Counterpoint works best as a showcase for Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway. Mulgrew has always been one of the strongest members of Voyager‘s primary cast, but the production team always struggled to play to her strengths while building a consistent character.

Counterpoint is an episode that plays perfectly to the strengths of all involved, creating a symphony where all of the orchestra is playing both in key and in time with one another. At this point in the run, Voyager should be producing episodes like this with much greater consistency.

Near kiss.

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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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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Crossfire (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

In many ways, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has aged remarkably well.

Episodes like Homefront and Paradise Lost arguably have greater resonance now than they did on initial broadcast, their commentary on state authority and the erosion of civil liberties packing more punch during the War on Terror than it did during the long nineties. The Way of the Warrior even invites comparison to the invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that the episode aired eight years before the invasion took place. In many respects, Deep Space Nine has aged considerably better than its siblings.

Odo's attempts at redecorating were not going well...

Odo’s attempts at redecorating were not going well…

On the other hand, there are some aspects that have not aged particularly well. There are certain elements of Deep Space Nine that feel ill-judged or ill-advised in hindsight; for example, the thinly-veiled (and awkward) racial politics inherent in the exploration of the Jem’Hadar in The Abandoned. The relationship between Odo and Kira is another such example, the show’s central “will they?”/“won’t they?” dynamic seeded in Necessary Evil and brought to fruition in Heart of Stone.

Taken on its own merits, Crossfire is a spectacular piece of television. It is skilfully written and directed, with a superb central performance from Rene Auberjonois as Odo. The plot of the episode seems to focus on Odo working through his long-simmering crush on Kira, suffering a near breakdown and eventually deciding to work through it. It is, in many ways, the best possible story that could be told using the relationship. However, the problem is that Crossfire is not the end of this particular thread. It is just a hurdle for Odo to pass.

Quark serves some unpalatable truths...

Quark serves some unpalatable truths…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Harbinger (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It goes almost without saying that the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was an attempt to revitalise a franchise that had already been on television for a decade and half. It was an attempt to do something quite radical and dynamic with a television property that had become rather staid and conservative. Star Trek: The Next Generation had been perfectly calibrated for the late eighties and early nineties, but its approach towards storytelling was increasingly outdated after seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.

One of the recurring issues in the first season of Enterprise was the conflict between the established franchise structure and something more adventurous and exciting. So many of those first season episodes seemed laboriously paced and awkwardly arch; there was a sense of dull routine rather than exciting adventure. The show would occasionally try to deviated from the established template (to varying degrees of success) with stories like Dear Doctor, Shuttlepod One, and A Night in Sickbay, but narrative conservatism won out in the sophomore season.

"So... sweeps?"

“So… sweeps?”

In many ways, Harbinger plays as a return to those earlier experiments in story structure. It is an episode that is not driven by story. Although the strange alien discovered by the crew provides a suitably dramatic climax, most of Harbinger is built around established character dynamics. Trip and T’Pol begin working through the sexual tension that has existed between them since the start of the third season; Reed and Hayes do something similar in a very different fashion. In the meantime, the ship just cruises along en route to the third season’s next big plot beat.

Harbinger is not entirely successful in this regard. There is a sense that the franchise is still figuring out how to construct episodes that don’t conform to a rigid story structure, with the mysterious alien visitor serving as an effective crutch to help get around these problems. Still, it is an interesting experiment and an example of how the show is consciously trying to reinvent itself in a manner that is more than simply cosmetic.

Expanding his Sphere of influence...

Expanding his Sphere of influence…

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