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92. The Prestige (#49)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, 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, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

On the cusp of the twentieth century, an obsession brews between two magicians. Alfred Borden and Robert Angier compete to surpass one another on the London stage; lives will be lost, illusions will be shattered, and reality itself might fray along the edges.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 49th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Discovery – Choose Your Pain (Review)

Choose Your Pain is perhaps the most traditional episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date, at least in terms of basic structure.

One of the central tensions of Discovery has been trying to figure out exactly how much to modernise the standard Star Trek storytelling template, the basic model of storytelling that has been in play through Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. These shows were produced over an eighteen-year period running from the second half of the eighties through to the turn of the millennium. However, a lot has happened in the twelve years since These Are the Voyages…

Avenging angel Gabriel.

Quite simply, television has changed phenomenally over the past decade. A number of these changes are obvious even in the way that Discovery is produced. After all, Discovery is the first Star Trek show to premiere on a streaming service. However, Discovery also conforms to other expectations of contemporary television. Discovery is much more tightly serialised than The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Discovery is also the shortest season of Star Trek ever produced.

There is a sense that times are changing, and that Discovery is attempting to provide an early twenty-first century update to a thirty-year-old template. After all, no other Star Trek series opened its first season with a two-episode prologue before introducing its core setting and premise. No other Star Trek series feature as many extended sequences with characters speaking subtitled Klingon. No other Star Trek series has featured swear words like “piss”, “sh!t” or “f$@k.” These are all new frontiers for televised Star Trek.

An echo chamber.

At the same time, Discovery has proven itself remarkably conservative in other respects. Although the show is very clearly serialised, the production team have worked hard to ensure that each individual episode has its own plot with its own structure and its own agenda. Unlike other streaming dramas, the episodes of Discovery are clear and distinct from one another, each serving as a bullet point in the overall arc of the season. Similarly, Discovery has made a point to use standard Star Trek narratives imbued with standard Star Trek morals built in.

For all the noise being made in certain quarters of the internet that Discovery is not really a Star Trek series, Choose Your Pain is the most conservative and old-fashioned episode of the series to date. Choose Your Pain is an episode that could easily have worked as part of Deep Space Nine or Enterprise, preserving the structure and rhythm with only a few minor tweaks along the way. Ironically, the episode’s biggest issue is that it feels just a little bit too much like classic Star Trek.

Here’s Mudd in your eye.

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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: The Best of Me

As with a lot of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, there’s something inherently reductive about The Best of Me. The film would suggest that characters are either inherently good or inherently bad, with several members of the cast existing as nothing more than roadblocks serving to keep the film’s central couple apart. The Best of Me is not set in the real world; it makes no allowance for the nuanced complexities of human emotions and relationships.

Instead, The Best of Me unfolds in a weird parallel world, a world where all human interactions and feelings are clear-cut and simple. It is easy to see the appeal of this world. It is a realm of romantic fantasy, where probability and chance are simply the tools of dramatic irony; where obvious twists are not only expected, they are obligatory. The Best of Me introduces its male lead, Dawson, reading Stephen Hawking as lazy shorthand for how smart he is. He can’t be that smart, or he’d understand this world doesn’t follow anything as bland as physics.

thebestofme5

Throughout The Best of Me, characters ruminate on the machinations of fate and destiny. We are told that mankind has always looked to the stars to guide them. However, this metaphysical musing is not so much a thematic statement as preemptive justification for a contrived (and entirely predictable) final act. The Best of Me is very much a twist in search of a movie. It is a tire-and-tested twist, at that.

However, the characters in The Best of Me don’t seem to realise that there is a difference between fate and hackneyed writing.

thebestofme4

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Non-Review Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a staggeringly beautiful piece of work. Every frame of the movie is elegantly crafted and beautifully composited. It’s a wonderful example of how computer-generated animation is every bit as artistically valid as the classic hand-drawn style. The vistas are breathtaking, the choreography is stunning, the design work is elegant. It’s a wonderful piece of animation that is never anything less than visually amazing.

Structurally, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is well-constructed – perhaps a little too well-constructed. It’s a wonderful demonstration of just how fantastic the sequel structure established by The Empire Strikes Back can be when applied well. The sequel is meticulously put together, carefully and precisely calibrated to strike the right notes at the right time with the right intensity. As far as constructing a sequel goes, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is following some impressive blueprints.

There are moments when it feels like How To Train Your Dragon 2 adheres a little too rigidly to formula, but given how well it pays off, it’s easy enough to forgive.

Sky hopes...

Sky hopes…

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