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Star Trek: Voyager – Lineage (Review)

Lineage is an extremely odd piece of television.

On one hand, it continues the engagement with archetypal social-commentary-driven Star Trek that defines so much of the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager. Of course, Voyager has always defined itself as archetypal Star Trek, but it is particularly pronounced during the final season. Producer Kenneth Biller seems eager to offer fans a series that superficially embraces the recognisable elements of Star Trek. There are a number of Prime Directive stories like Natural Law and Friendship One, for example. The idea of the Federation as an ideal comes up in stories like Drive and The Void, for example.

Tom has the talking pillow.

There are also a number of episodes that adopt the classic issue-driven format that fans and even casual audiences have long associated with Star Trek, the sort of “science-fiction as a mirror on society” stories that can trace their roots back to episodes like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield… The seventh season of Voyager wrestles with the healthcare system in Critical Care and the death penalty in Repentance. More than that, it explicitly calls back to one of the highlights of the form when Author, Author stages a late-season remake of The Measure of a Man.

On the surface, Lineage belongs as part of that tradition. It is a story about genetic engineering and designer babies, two hot-button issues at the turn of the millennium, a palpable anxiety rippling through the popular consciousness in projects as diverse as Space: Above and Beyond or Gattaca or The Sixth Day. There was a real and tangible fear about what this sort of genetic tampering would do to society, and the set-up of Lineage promises to explore the implications of an idea with which the franchise had been grappling since Space Seed in the late sixties.

Duvet really know how much you care?

However, as with Critical Care, there is a sense that the production team want the credit (and the attention) for dealing with a hot-button issue without the possible political back draft that would come from actually taking a strong stance on the point. Lineage pays lip-service to a broader cultural debate around things like genetic engineering and designer babies, but it consciously veers away from anything potentially contentious to focus on a really tonally surreal soap opera that involves the casual violation of the EMH’s programming and an absurd stand-off in Sickbay without any emotional reality.

The result is something of a surreal roller coaster that doesn’t work in any meaningful way, veering dramatically in terms of tone and theme while completely abandoning any sense of nuance or complexity in favour of heightened melodrama. The result is deeply unsatisfying, but fascinating as a hodge-podge of different ideas thrown together to structure an episode.

Baby on board.

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106. Fifty Shades of Grey (#-91)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with Marianne Cassidy and Grace Duffy, The Bottom 100 is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, a trip through some of the worst movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Sam Taylor Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey.

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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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The X-Files – Elegy (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.

The first two-thirds of Elegy count as the best episode of The X-Files that John Shiban has written at this point of his tenure on the writing staff. Elegy starts out as an episode that leans into Shiban’s strengths. It is a very traditional and old-fashioned horror story, the first tried-and-tested ghost story that The X-Files has told in a while. The idea of a haunted bowling alley is so wonderfully weird and so quintessentially American that it fits The X-Files perfectly. For its first thirty minutes, Elegy is funereal and sombre, haunting and enchanting.

Elegy is a story packed with potentially interesting concepts. It is overflowing with clever ideas and memorable images. Shiban is a writer who has a great deal of affection for classic horror, and that affection shines through into Elegy. There is a slow and sorrowful atmosphere to the early stretches of the episode. Transparent grey spectres are a staple of the horror genre, but they work very well in this context. The X-Files has been quite reluctant to handle traditional monsters, so there is something rather strange and affecting about seeing such a classic depiction here.

Here there be ghosts...

Here there be ghosts…

Then things go to hell. To be fair, the problems with the last fifteen of Elegy are very much suggested from the start; they are just pushed to the fore. It becomes quite clear that Elegy has no idea how to resolve a “haunted bowling alley” story, so the script hastily and clumsily transitions to an “abusive care home” plot. The first two thirds of Elegy are not that interested in the character of Harold Spuller beyond his use as a plot device; a fact that becomes quite apparent in how the final third callously disposes of him.

Elegy is an episode that brushes against greatness. Its best ideas rank with the highlights of the fourth season. Unfortunately, all of that is undercut by a truly terrible final act.

Blood on the mirror...

Blood on the mirror…

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The X-Files – El Mundo Gira (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.

The X-Files is a show that sometimes has difficulties when it comes to portraying minorities.

There are lots of episodes that offer insightful and thoughtful explorations of isolated subcultures, without veering into offensive stereotypes or awkward cliché. Fresh Bones and Hell Money are two examples of the kinds of stories that do offer those sorts of interesting and respectful depictions of minorities. In contrast, the show can sometimes seem a little close-minded and xenophobic. Excelsis Dei, Teso Dos Bichos and Teliko are episodes with somewhat questionable depictions of other cultures.

Illegal aliens.

Illegal aliens.

Writer John Shiban likes his horror tropes. He adores the classic horror movie trappings, and revels in a very old-school approach to scary stories. Unfortunately, the horror genre has an unfortunate history of exploitation and racism when it comes to the portrayal of “the other.” The easiest way to make something scary and unknown is to make it foreign, suggesting that the outside world is filled with horrors and monstrosities. Shiban would hit on this trashy exploitation vibe repeatedly during his tenure on The X-Files.

El Mundo Gira is very much a companion piece to Shiban’s other stories about foreign monsters – the indigenous cat-people of Teso Dos Bichos and the butt-dwelling Indian fakir of Badlaa. It is a not a story set in the world of Mexican-American immigrants; it is a story set in a clumsy stereotypical depiction of the world of Mexican-American immigrants, as channelled through unfortunate racial stereotypes.

Green haze...

Green haze…

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Non-Review Review: Live and Let Die

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

Who’s the black private dick honky secret agent who’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Bond, James Bond.

It’s blaxploitation, but with a British accent.

Strange bedfellows…

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The Walking Dead, Vol. 2 (Hardcover)

Welcome to the m0vie blog’s zombie week! It’s a week of zombie-related movie discussions and reviews as we come up to Halloween, to celebrate the launch of Frank Darbont’s The Walking Dead on AMC on Halloween night. So be sure to check back all week, as we’ll be running posts on the living dead.

I want to like Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. I really do. I love zombies. I love it when writers use horror to explore socially relevent issues. I totally dig the black-and-white style which is clearly intended to evoke the vibe of George Romero horror films. I love that it’s a mainstream comic book property that has broken into popular culture despite not featuring muscle-bound guys and gals with impossible physiques in ridiculous spandex – proof to the masses that comic books can be about more than superheroes. However, as much as I may want to embrace and love The Walking Dead, I just can’t bring myself to.

Grimes and punishment...

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