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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Endgame

It says a lot about the state of contemporary pop culture that the biggest movie of the year is essentially a clip episode.

Pop culture has always been vaguely nostalgic, evoking an idealised past and reminding audiences of times when the future seemed brighter. After all, much of the New Hollywood canon is explicitly nostalgic, sixties and seventies films that pay loving homage to the thirties and the forties, often explicitly; The Sting, The Godfather, Paper Moon, Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde. The past has always had a certain allure for cinema, perhaps because that’s what pictures have always been; individual moments captured on film and frozen in time, removed from their original context. Film is simply those frozen images run together to create the illusion of movement and life. Every film is a time machine, some are just more explicit than others.

Assembly line.

However, there is something fascinating about the modern wave of nostalgia, the speed at which pop culture is consuming itself. Recent waves of seventies, eighties and nineties nostalgia are still cresting. Earlier this summer, Captain Marvel channeled some of this nineties nostalgia into blockbuster (and Blockbuster) form. However, it also feels like nostalgia is getting closer and closer to the present, brushing up against the current moment. In some respects, the success of Lady Bird is indicative here. After all, Lady Bird is a film that is explicitly nostalgic about the post-9/11 era, evoked through footage of the Iraq War and the sounds of Justin Timberlake playing at a teen house party.

Avengers: Endgame is a strangely nostalgic beast. It is not strange that the film is nostalgic; after all, this is something of a coda to a decade of superhero films. However, it is strange how that nostalgia brushes up against the present, the climax of the film feeling very much like a loving homage to Avengers: Infinity War, a film that only premiered one year ago.

Stark raving mad…

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127. Akira – Anime April 2019 (#249)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, 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 every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze no tani no Naushika and Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira.

This week, the first part of the double bill, Akira, set in the then-distant future of 2019.

In the streets of Neo-Tokyo, an entire generation is left to fend for itself. Against a backdrop of reckless violence and urban chaos, as the city seems ready to burn to the ground around them, teenagers Tetsuo and Kaneda have forged a friendship rooted in desperation and necessity. However, everything changes when Tetsuo has a fleeting encounter with a strange child, and opens doors to possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 216th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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88. Back to the Future (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Kieran Gillen, 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 every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future.

Marty McFly is just a regular teenager, until he finds himself thrown back in time to the mid-fifties. Accidentally disrupting the first meeting of his parents, Marty must reunite their teenage selves before he is erased from existence.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 44th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Fury (Review)

Normally, the return of an old cast member to an established show is a cause for celebration, akin to a belated family reunion.

The obvious examples involve the appearances of cast members from other shows on later spin-offs. Think of the reverence and sincerity with which Star Trek: The Next Generation treated Spock and Scotty in episodes like Unification, Part I, Unification, Part II and Relics. Think about the delight with which Star Trek: Voyager greeted Geordi LaForge in Timeless or Deanna Troi in Pathfinder. Even when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine subverted expectations with Jonathan Frakes’ appearance in Defiant, it was still joyful. If anything, Star Trek: Enterprise went too far in accommodating Troi and Riker in These Are the Voyages…

Self-control.

Even within individual shows, the return of long-absent cast members is often treated as an opportunity to celebrate that character, and perhaps even to acknowledge past missteps involving them. Yesterday’s Enterprise brought back the character of Tasha Yar, and used the opportunity to rewrite her mean-spirited and pointless death in Skin of Evil. When mirror!Bareil visited in Resurrection, the episode became a meditation upon how the character’s intrinsic decency was strong enough to transcend dimensions and to define even the worst version of himself.

This approach to the return of established characters makes a great deal of sense for a wide variety of reasons. Most obviously, the production team have gone out of their way to recruit these actors for this specific purpose; it makes sense that these episodes should serve as a celebration of their contributions to the franchise. Even beyond that, it is safe to say that almost any lead character on a Star Trek series has something resembling a fan base; think about the ominously-named “Friends of Vedek Bareil.” Why bring back a character, and attract in those fans, just to do something horrific?

That healthy blue glow.

All of this serves to make Fury all the more perplexing. Fury is an episode of Voyager that effectively resurrects the character of Kes, a regular on the first three seasons of Voyager who departed the series in The Gift at the start of the fourth season. The return of Kes is a strange choice, in large part because the production team often struggled with what to do with the character while she was part of the core cast. Still, there are any number of interesting possibilities. And there is the possibility that, like Yesterday’s Enterprise or Resurrection, the production team might use the occasion to say something interesting about Kes.

Unfortunately, Fury is a spectacular mess of an episode with half-developed character motivations and a highly surreal premise that undercuts a lot of the appeal of bringing Kes back in the first place.

Having its cake and eating it too.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Relativity (Review)

Relativity is perhaps the most Star Trek: Voyager episode that ever Star Trek: Voyaged.

Of course, there are better episodes of Voyager. Of course, there are episodes of Voyager that more effectively showcase the cast and the premise. Of course, there are episodes of Voyager that do a lot of things that Relativity does, only better. However, there is a sense the episode’s crushing mediocrity is a large part of what makes it so indicative of the show as a whole. Those other stronger episodes stand out from the crowd, and rank among some of the best episodes that Voyager ever produced. In contrast, Relativity is just kinda… there.

Ship of the line.

Relativity clearly belongs to the familiar Voyager subgenre of “timey wimey” action adventures that include epics like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II and Timeless. In fact, the subgenre could be extended to include The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, even if no literal time travel takes place. Relativity also borrows from the “let’s blow Voyager up!” school of plotting that includes Deadlock and Course: Oblivion. The episode also leans on the “reset” button that has been in integral part of Voyager dating back to Time and Again.

There is a sense that Relativity is a heady cocktail of Voyager storytelling tropes, a reiteration of many stock storytelling elements that have been employed in a variety of important and notable episodes earlier in the run. However, these episodes count among the finest example of Voyager‘s blockbuster storytelling. Relativity is most notable for taking all of these bombastic larger-than-life elements and finding a way to integrate them into a rather lifeless and stale piece of television. In this sense, Relativity is a quintessential Voyager episode.

Keeping those balls in the air.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Timeless (Review)

The one hundredth episode of any television show should be a cause for celebration.

After all, one hundred episodes exists at a number of interesting points in the life of a show. It tends to arrive late in the fourth season or early in the fifth season of a twenty-odd-episode-a-season series, meaning that any television show making it to that point has amassed some cultural cache. By that stage, most of the original contracts are expiring (or close to expiring) and so there is at least some sense as to how secure the future is. One hundred episodes also marks the series as viable for syndication; one hundred episodes airing five days a week can fill substantial airtime.

Ice to see you again.

To be fair, the other Star Trek series tended to mark the occasion with some low-key celebrations. The one hundredth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was Redemption, Part I, which was primarily notable for reasons behind the camera; both a set visit from Ronald Reagan and the end of the fourth season that had so frustratingly eluded the original series. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marked both its one hundredth hour (The Ship) and its one hundredth episode (… Nor the Battle to the Strong) as “business as usual.”

However, Star Trek: Voyager turns its one hundredth episode into an epic event. It is the perfect distillation of the “Voyager as blockbuster Star Trek” aesthetic championed by Brannon Braga: a truly jaw-dropping computer-generated action scene, with Voyager crashing on the surface of an ice world; a high-stakes time-travel plot, with a killer hook; a guest appearance from a beloved Next Generation actor. Timeless is an incredibly ambitious piece of television that practically screams “this is a very special occasion!” to the audience at the top of its lungs.

LaForging ahead.

And, yet, for all of that, there is something decidedly funereal about the episode. The episode opens with the memorable shot of the eponymous starship buried under the ice on some forgotten and unnamed world. The crew are long dead, but the ship itself remains preserved and trapped in amber. While Timeless might eventually end with future!Kim changing the timeline and shaving ten years off the journey, the episode’s most iconic images are destructive: Voyager crashing and bouncing, the familiar sets encased in ice.

This is not a birthday party, it is a wake.

Seven and the EMH never saw eye-to-eye.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Time’s Orphan (Review)

In some ways, Time’s Orphan provides a companion piece to Profit and Lace.

A recurring theme of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been the suggestion that the series has reached the limits of what is possible within the context of a nineties Star Trek series, that it has really done just about everything that it is possible for a mid-nineties genre television show to do within the confines of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. After the fourth and fifth seasons crashed through boundaries, the sixth discovers new limits on the horizon.

This will not end well.

In some ways, Profit and Lace marks the end of the line for Deep Space Nine‘s Ferengi-centric episodes. It suggests that the production team have done just about everything that they can do within that framework, and that the ideas remaining are somewhat underwhelming. Time’s Orphan does something similar with the annual (or even biannual) “O’Brien must suffer!” stories. The production team have inflicted almost every horror imaginable on Chief Miles Edward O’Brien, and Time’s Orphan represents just about the last idea left.

Time’s Orphan is nowhere near as bad as Profit and Lace, although it taps into the same core problem. The writers on Deep Space Nine have taken a given story thread about as far as they can take it, which means that there is very little left to do within an established framework. Time’s Orphan manages a few moments of genuine emotion, but it also feels strained and tired. Time has caught up with the production team.

Scarred to death.

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