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Millennium – The Mikado (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Glen Morgan and James Wong famously pulled Millennium away from its “serial killer of the week” format in its second season. While the label might be a little harsh (and perhaps a little exaggerated), it did hint at a recurring formula in the first season. Frank Black would be called in to catch a serial killer with a unique and distinctive modus operandi. The first season was littered with episodes built around that core format, wildly varying in quality. For every Blood Relatives or Paper Dove, there was a Loin Like a Hunting Flame or Kingdom Come.

The second season largely moved away from all that. Although Morgan and Wong occasionally made nods towards the classic format in episodes like Beware of the Dog, 19:19 or Goodbye Charlie, the second season of the show was a lot less formulaic and familiar. This is was a show that could transition from The Hand of St. Sebastian to Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” to Midnight of the Century to Goodbye Charlie to Luminary. It seemed quite reasonable to suggest that the second season of Millennium was not as firmly attached to the concept of serial killers as the first season had been.

This is Avatar calling...

This is Avatar calling…

This makes The Mikado a rather unique instalment, arriving a little past half-way through the season. Written by Michael R. Perry, The Mikado is very much an archetypal serial killer story. There is a case from Frank Black’s past, lots of victims, some occult imagery, and even a ticking plot. In fact, The Mikado is probably the only episode of the second season that would arguably fit more comfortably in either the first or third seasons of the show. All you’d have to do is write out the character of Roedecker.

However, there is something decidedly big and bold about The Mikado. It is perhaps the most archetypal (and maybe the most successful) straight-down-the-middle “serial killer of the week” story that Millennium ever produced. After all, if you are only going to do produce one truly traditional “serial killer of the week” story in a season, you may as well go big. And you can’t go much bigger than the Zodiac.

It's all about the execution...

It’s all about the execution…

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Millennium – Gehenna (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.

Written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter, Gehenna feels very much like a continuation of The Pilot.

More to the point, it feels like a restatement of many of the key themes of The Pilot, an attempt to reinforce many of the core ideas in that first episode, and hint at something larger. In many ways, it is about ensuring that Millennium retains its identity as it transitions from a pilot that had a relatively relaxed schedule and high budget into a weekly (well, eight-day) production schedule. Gehenna is about Carter and Nutter proving that Millennium can do what it wants and needs to do week-in and week-out, while also indicating towards larger threads.

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil...

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil…

This isn’t a bad way to approach the first regular episode of a television series. Indeed, Carter had done something similar with The Pilot and Deep Throat on The X-Files, structuring the episodes as a one-two punch of reinforced themes and world-building. Gehenna is very much about convincing the audience that The Pilot was not just a flash in the pan, and that the series has a long clear arc ahead of it. Much like Deep Throat really sketched the outline of the alien conspiracy only hinted at in The Pilot, Gehenna features more than a few nods towards a larger evil at work in Frank’s world.

There are points where Gehenna feels a little bit too forced, and a little bit too eager to restate and repeat the themes and ideas of The Pilot. However, it is an interesting episode that does hint towards the show’s future in a number of interesting ways.

Ear today...

Ear today…

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My 12 for ’14: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The world has always seemed like it was on the cusp of something – like there was a powder keg ready to errupt. The infamous “doomsday clock” has never been further than seventeen minutes from midnight, and – outside of that brief moment of post-Cold War euphoria – mankind has always been living within a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of existence as we know it. Nuclear weapons. Global warming. Biological warfare. Economic collapse. All possible world-enders.

The new millennium has been dominated by the threats of terrorism and of global warming, unconventional opponents that can difficult to engage. However, 2014 brought its own particular brand of uncertainties and discomforts. In February, a revolution in the Ukraine sparked a political crisis in Europe, pushing Russia to loggerheads with Europe and the United States. Since August, Ferguson has been simmering away, the imagery of the protests burnt into the collective unconscious. The Syrian Civil War has faded from the front pages.

dawnoftheplanetoftheapes11

The word “revolution” seemed to simmer away in the background, with certain young activists actively travelling to Ferguson in search of their own revolution. Writing in Time magazine, Darlena Cunha compared the trouble in Ferguson to the civil unrest which gave rise to the American Revolution. Demonstrating no shortage of self-importance, actor and comedian Russell Brand published his own manifesto – helpfully titled Revolution – in whish he pledged to lead a global revolution.

“The revolution can not be boring,” Brand advised readers. They seldom are. Revolutions are typically bloody, brutal, violent, horrific. There is a reason that wars of independence tend to be followed by civil wars and internal strife. Although the idea of revolution holds a romantic allure, history demonstrates that revolutions seldom help those most in need of assistance. “Meet the new boss,” the Who teased on Won’t Get Fooled Again, “same as the old boss.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a harrowing and compelling exploration of revolutionary bloodshed.

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The X-Files (Topps) #1/2 – Tiptoe Through the Tulpa (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.

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is another nice “extra” from Topps’ licensing of The X-Files. The comic book was Topps’ most successful property, and the company worked very hard to promote it across various platforms. They tried to recruit potential readers from within the comic book industry and outside the comic book industry, devoting considerable time and energy to advertising the ongoing series.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard had provided promotional strips for TV Guide and for Hero Illustrated, both very clear attempts at courting potential new readers. Both strips adopted very different approaches. Aimed at as broad an audience as possible, the strip for TV GuideCircle Game – was a tight five-page story that covered a lot of ground in a very efficient manner. In contrast, the strip for Hero IllustratedTrick of the Light – was very clearly targeted at a much more niche audience, featuring in-jokes and references for fans and geeks.

He's not 1/2 the man he used to be...

Herbert’s not 1/2 the man he used to be…

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa was written as a tie-in promotion for Wizard magazine, a giveaway for people who read the comic industry’s most popular collector and insider magazine. People would buy Wizard #53, fill out a form and then send away for their copy of the seventeen-page X-Files #1/2. It was a gimmick, but it was a gimmick that was very clearly aimed at broadening the comic’s audience, convincing a few readers who wouldn’t otherwise try the book to check out a “free” sample comic.

As such, Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is written as a seventeen-page comic that could serve as a potential jumping-on point for new readers. It is rather light, rather simple, but nevertheless makes for a clean and effective X-Files one-shot.

Cue theme music...

Cue theme music…

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Non-Review Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Constructing a satisfying sequel is an artform unto itself. It is something that requires a great deal of skill. As with any aspect of filmmaking, building off an earlier film is a very difficult thing to do. Producing a sequel comes with its own set of artistic risks and challenges, its own obstacles and hurdles. Navigating those potential problems and finding a way to meet (and even surpass) expectations without straying too far from the framework of the original film is difficult.

As with making any movie, there are existing frameworks and structures that do a little help make navigating those problems a little easier. Perhaps the structure of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is the most obvious example. Using the trust established by the first film, the ensemble are split up to carry different strands of the plot, revealing scattered pieces of a larger whole, before reuniting for an epic finalé. Bryan Singer used this approach for X-Men II and How to Train Your Dragon 2 also followed it.

Playing him for a chimp, eh?

Playing him for a chimp, eh?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in an interesting position. It is a sequel to a remake; a remake of a film franchise that was originally iconic and influential, before dying a slow and humiliating public death as the series diminished and collapsed. Not only does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes come with the expectations of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it comes with the revived expectations of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise; expectations restored by Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes chooses a very clever structure for this sequel, loosely following the sequel framework typified by Christopher Nolan’s work on The Dark Knight. This is a very clever approach, and it pays dividends. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious and exciting sequel, a wonderful post-apocalyptic epic and an engaging moral parable.

Going ape for it...

Going ape for it…

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Divided We Stand (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Divided We Stand actually feels like the start of something interesting for Ed Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. It’s a story arc that heralds a bold new direction for Marvel’s merry mutants in the wake of Messiah Complex, taking the team out of their comfort zone and suggesting that Uncanny X-Men will be moving a little outside its comfort zone and trying something different. It’s a story arc that sees the team reflecting on the past and considering the future.

So, naturally, it is Ed Brubaker’s last solo arc on Uncanny X-Men.

A bad trip?

A bad trip?

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Kieron Gillen’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Fear Itself (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run stands as one of the most underrated gems at Marvel over the past decade or so. As with his work on Thor, Gillen’s work on the title is sandwiched between two more high-profile writers. On Thor, Gillen took over from J. Michael Straczynski and handed over to Matt Fraction, while he worked on Uncanny X-Men between the runs of Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis. It’s easy to see how his work on the book might slip under the radar.

Even the run itself feels somewhat disjointed. It isn’t as simple as tracing the first issue he wrote to the last issue he wrote. Gillen was the last writer to work on the first volume of Uncanny X-Men, and the launch of the comic’s second volume bisected his run. He finished up on the second volume of Uncanny X-Men in the midst of the gigantic Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, with Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences serving as something of a coda to his work on the merry mutants.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Looking at Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run from outside, it looks like a line trying to connect various events and moments. It almost reads like a checklist of problems that a writer working on a mainstream superhero comic could face from the publisher. However, one of Gillen’s main strengths is his adaptability. Gillen has a unique ability to bend his story to fit whatever is required from the book in question.

He is a flexible writer, more than able to respond to the demands of the publisher – and even incorporate them into his stories. As a case in point, the Uncanny X-Men tie-in to Fear Itself really should be a disjointed mess. Fear Itself was a sprawling event that featured all sorts of tie-ins and spin-offs and crossovers, intersecting with various other stories in all sorts of strange ways. It’s to the credit of Gillen that the whole four-issue tie-in fits perfectly with his work on Uncanny X-Men.

Punching above his weight...

Punching above his weight…

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