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Star Trek: Voyager – Alice (Review)

Alice is a misfire.

To be fair, the episode seemed doomed from its original set of premises. Star Trek: Voyager has never been particularly good at capturing the sense of Tom Paris as a restless unreliable rebel. The episodes of Voyager focusing on the character’s rebellious tendencies tend to be spectacular misfires; Ex Post Facto, Investigations, Vis à Vis, Thirty Days. These stories do not play to the strengths of either the writing staff or Robert Duncan McNeill, feeling largely incompatible with the character of Tom Paris as he developed in the wake of Caretaker.

I’ll never get used to not living inside of Alice.

However, Alice literally weds this familiar and unsuccessful premise to another recurring Voyager trope with a less-than-impressive rate of success. It is not enough for Alice to be another story about Tom Paris proving that he has a rebellious streak, that premise has to be woven into a broad science-fiction gothic horror in the style of Threshold or Macrocosm. Indeed, Alice is explicitly a psycho-sexual horror in the mode of Blood Fever or Darkling, inevitably butting up against the difficulties of constructing an episode that is about sex but can never discuss sex.

Alice is flawed from the ground-up, but those flaws are only further revealed in the clumsy execution and the disappointing storytelling. Alice is a very bad piece of television.

A deep-space dust-up.

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60. The Shawshank Redemption (#1)

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

This time, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.

Convicted of murdering his wife, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences in Shawshank Penitentiary. A harsh and unforgiving prison, Andy struggles to hold on to hope as the years go by.

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

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Non-Review Review: IT

IT works best as a fusion of weird fiction with a classic coming of age story.

IT is arguably one of Stephen King’s most iconic and influential works. Pennywise the Dancing Clown is perhaps King’s most instantly recognisable creation. King’s work seems to recognise this. The monster clown haunts his fiction, making various appearances in other works, suggesting that the creature is an infection spreading across the author’s vast tableau. There are lots of reasons for IT‘s success and status, but a lot of it comes down to the fact that IT is an encapsulation of many of King’s pet themes and plays to many of King’s strengths.

Bill Skarsgård used his other 98 red balloons on Atomic Blonde.

Director Andrés Muschietti seems to understand this. In fact, IT serves as a smorgasbord of cinematic King adaptations, drawing upon and even quoting from various other successful adaptations of the author’s work. Most notably, IT owes a surprisingly large debt to Stand By Me. The decision to exorcise the “present day” sequences of the novel from this film, leaving them to a potential sequel, means that IT is even more overtly and consciously a coming of age narrative.

However, IT is very much a coming of age horror story, a grotesque and unsettling expression of the nightmares lurking just behind familiar childish fears.

There’s something in water.

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The X-Files – Chinga (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.

Chinga is the episode of The X-Files that was written by Stephen King.

That is a pretty big deal. Stephen King is one of the most influential American writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is a writer who has enjoyed tremendous commercial success, but who has also balanced that popularity with considerable respect of critics and academics. His work has permeated popular cultured, and sparked all sorts of analysis and exploration. While no creator of that calibre works without at least some small level of backlash, King is one of the most successful American writers by any measure.

Play time!

Play time!

Writing about King in A Century of Great Suspense Stories, Jeffery Deaver argued that the author “helped free the popular name from the shackles of simple genre writing. He is a master of masters.” As such, he should be quite a comfortable fit for The X-Files. Even aside from any stylistic sensibilities that he might share with the series, King is a creator who manages to consistently producer work that might be dismissed as “genre”, but manages to compete with more prestigious and high-profiler literature.

The X-Files did something similar in the nineties. It was a show that frequently dabbled in cult genres – it was a show that dealt with horror and science-fiction themes on a regular basis. However, thanks to the craftsmanship of those involved, The X-Files was frequently able to compete with more “serious” fare at the major awards ceremonies. Chris Carter worked very hard to prevent the show from being relegated to the horror or science-fiction “ghetto.” It was a show that could slide to high-brow to low-brow over a single act; that was part of what made it so fun.

A bloody disaster...

A bloody disaster…

So landing King was very much a coup for The X-Files. He was one of the best-selling and most prolific American writers of the nineties, with his name all over a wealth of media. All that Chinga really needs to do is exist. It would be next to impossible for Chinga to be anything but “that episode of The X-Files written by Stephen King.” Indeed, it seems almost unreasonable to expect anything more from it. The hype on Chinga was unbelievable – as one might expect from a television show that had bagged one of the most popular fiction writers around.

Chinga is a very flawed piece of television, an episode that feels too much like an early draft than a fully-developed concept. The styles of Chris Carter and Stephen King blend reasonably well, but there is a sense that neither is pushing the other out of their comfort zone. Chinga is a pretty average piece of television, a pretty average Stephen King story, and a pretty average episode of The X-Files. While not necessarily a catastrophic failure, it is hardly a fantastic success.

"Yeah, I'm sure this vacation will be completely uneventful!"

“Yeah, I’m sure this vacation will be completely uneventful!”

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Non-Review Review: Carrie (2013)

Carrie is, for the first half of its runtime, a fairly effective attempt to update Stephen King’s iconic high school horror story about religious repression and teenage issues. While Chloë Grace Moretz isn’t quite as memorable and quite as nuanced as Sissy Spacek was in Brian De Palma’s much-loved original adaptation, she gives a strong central performance. However, the film falls apart a bit as it enters the second half, turning into a large-scale action set piece that feels more like a superhero disaster movie than a psychological teen horror.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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Non-Review Review: The Raven

The Raven is one of those concepts that might have been interesting to follow from the pitch phase. It seems almost impossible that anybody thought the movie, in the condition that it was released, was a good idea – so I’m curious at how various people were convinced to sign on and to help shepherd it to the screen. Of course, my inner cynic suggests that money was a prime motivating factor, but it’s very hard to imagine anybody being convinced that “Edgar Allan Poe lives through se7en in 1849 Baltimore” would prove the basis of a massive cash windfall.

There must have been something of interest here, something worthy of attention at some point in the process, rather than just the half-hearted attempt to knock-off one of those nineties serial killer knock-offs with a slight change of scenery.

A shadowy figure...

A shadowy figure…

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My 12 for ’12: Room 237 & The Death of the Author

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #10

Room 237 is a fascinating look at Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It has been described as “the best DVD extra ever made”, and it definitely succeeds as a lighthearted (but incisive) exploration at one of the best horror films ever produced. While it works on that level, Room 237 works even better as a demonstration of what Roland Barthes termed The Death of the Author, the awkward relationship that exists between a piece of art, its creator and the audience watching it.

On a larger scale, Room 237 is the story of how a film can be appropriated by people, and how sometimes the real cinematic magic unfolds in the gap between the screen and the audience watching it.

theshining7

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