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Non-Review Review: Hold the Dark

“Do you have any idea what’s outside these windows? How black it gets?”

An enlightening piece of work.

In the American consciousness, the frontier is a haunted place.

In some ways, it is a concept distinct to the United States, at least in contrast to Europe. The boundaries within Europe were established centuries ago; although they might shift and bend, the contours of the continent have been known to the people who inhabited it for millennia. In contrast, to the settlers who arrived from Europe, the North American frontier was a mystery and an enigma. The frontier is distinct a border space. A border implies a point of collision that might be crossed, the neatly delineated boundary between one place and another.

Let Bisons be Bisons.

The frontier is something entirely different. It represents the edge of reason, and limit of what is knowable. To reach the end of the frontier is to reach the end of “the West.” In geographical terms, off the western shore of the North American continent lies “the East.” In more abstract terms, the American frontier is an imaginary space rather than a literal one. After all, Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film – Green Room – suggested that the frontier could be found somewhere  surprisingly close to urbanity, only a few hours away from the familiar comforts of Portland.

Hold the Dark takes place in a decidedly more remote environment, against the snow backdrops of Alaska. Saulnier goes to great lengths to illustrate the isolation of that environment, paying particular attention to how long it takes Russell Core to reach the small Alaskan town that serves as the starting point of the story before venturing out into the real wilderness. At another point, Vernon Slone stops by an old hostel on his travels. Asked for his point of origin, he’s informed that there was no road connecting the two places. “Not directly,” he clarifies.

Shedding some light on the matter.

As with the snow-covered western wilderness in Wind River, there is a sense that Hold the Dark unfolds against the very limit of the American frontier, at the point where the continent has ceased to provide for the settlers and instead has become something harsh and unforgiving. It is a place that has been settled by humans, but is perhaps untouched by humanity. If Green Room allowed Saulnier to explore the vipers coiled underneath familiar rocks, then Hold the Dark is a story about the animals that hunt at the very edge of civilisation.

Green Room was effectively a cynical and grim take on the familiar horror plot that warned of the dangers lurking off the backroads, just out of sight. Hold the Dark is the story of a hunt for a dangerous predator in a harsh environment. In both films, the monster looks very familiar.

Mask appeal.

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86. Mister Smith Goes to Washington (#147) – Independence Day 2018

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, an Independence Day treat. Frank Capra’s Mister Smith Goes to Washington.

Local activist and unlikely politician Jefferson Smith finds himself appointed to represent his great state in the United States Senate. However, while trying to ensure a fair deal for his constituents, Smith soon finds his faith in democracy threatened as he figures out how the institutions actually work.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 147th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Daedalus (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Discussions of the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise tend to focus on the multi-part episodes.

That makes a great deal of sense. After all, no Star Trek show had ever built a season around a collection of multi-part arcs. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had embraced serialisation in the second half of its run and Star Trek: Voyager had embraced an aesthetic that supported two-part “event” episodes, there had never been a season of the franchise constructed around a string of two- or three-part adventures. Even the third season of Enterprise had really been on long form story with the occasional episodic diversion.

Padding it out.

Padding it out.

These multi-part stories dominate the fourth season. Of the twenty-two episodes of the fourth season, seventeen are part of seven multi-part stories. Of the five episodes that nominally stand alone, Home is very much a thematic introduction to the season that sets up all manner of ideas to pay off later in the run and These Are the Voyages… is effectively an attempt at a coda for the eighteen years (and twenty-five television seasons) of the Berman era as a whole. Discounting these two “bookends”, that leaves only three standalone episodes.

Two of those episodes, Daedalus and Observer Effect aired back to back in the middle of the season. However, although each episode is self-contained in terms of plot, they do feel like spiritual companion pieces.

Turn the lights off on the way out...

Turn the lights off on the way out…

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The Lone Gunmen – Tango de los Pistoleros (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

In the late nineteenth century, tango reigned not only in brothels and dance halls, where it served as both simulation and stimulation to entertain the men waiting their turn for commercial sex, but also in dance academies, vacant lots, and barrio streets where improvised dances were performed to the tune of the hurdy-gurdy. It was also played in men-only cafés. In these original settings, tango lyrics were very simple and mainly focused on the joys and pains of the arrabales, where the cult of courage and the skilful use of knives were combined with the workings of local political bosses and the police. The main characters were guapos, or tough guys; prostitutes; pimps; and compadritos, men who imitated the tough style of pimps and guapos yet most of the time worked for a living.

Tango was danced by men and women in pairs but also by men alone as they waited their turn in the brothels. It was, above all, a dance of the margins.

– Diego Armus, The Ailing City

lonegunmen-tangodelospistoleros1

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The X-Files – Theef (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Theef is an underrated seventh season episode, one often forgotten and overlooked as season seven moves firmly into its second half.

The episode represents another conscious attempt to get “back to basics.” Continuing the vein of Hungry or Millennium or Orison or Signs and Wonders, the script for Theef hopes to prove that the show can still produce a genuinely scary hour of television in its seventh season. It certainly succeeds; Theef is a delightfully unsettling story, one that borders on the downright nasty. From the closing shot of the teaser – a body suspended from a chandelier with the word “Theef” scrawled on a wall in his own blood – Theef goes for the jugular.

"I think he's trying to tell you something."

“I think he’s trying to tell you something.”

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Torchwood: Miracle Day – The New World (Review)

In a way, Torchwood: Miracle Day is a miracle itself. It’s a sign of just how far Russell T. Davies has brought Doctor Who, to the point where one of the franchise’s spin-offs could be an international co-production between America and the United Kingdom. Sure, Starz is hardly the best and brightest of American networks, but it’s no small accomplishment on the part of Davies.

America has been something of a promised land for the franchise since the eighties, when John Nathan Turner would spend considerable time and money visiting American fan conventions or casting multinational companions or even arranging international co-financing or to air The Five Doctors first in international territories. None of those examples really took, and most of America only really knew the franchise through PBS airings of the Tom Baker era.

Jack's back...

Jack’s back…

Davies did a lot of work to bring Doctor Who to America. That work really came to fruition during the Steven Moffat era, with a massive opening two-parter set in 1970’s America and the use of Utah as a crucial location. Massive visits to Comic Con became an annual ritual for the show, its producers and performers. The Day of the Doctor will be broadcast live around the world at the same time, no small accomplishment.

While it’s undoubtedly on a much smaller scale, it is nice that Miracle Day affords Davies a chance to be part of this expansion – spearheading his own project that directly intersects with American television. Starz is hardly Fox, the network that Davies originally pitched to, but it is a significant achievement, and a lot of Miracle Day is best understood as an opportunity for the franchise “to go American.”

Defying classification...

Defying classification…

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Non-Review Review: The Drop

It is suggested that hell is other people. Perhaps not so much. Perhaps hell is the absence of other people. Towards the end of The Drop, a character ruminates on the idea of eternal damnation – suggesting that hell is nothing but eternal emptiness, a cosmic echo chamber where the damned are left with nothing but their own sense of isolation. Maybe that is what damnation is, nothing but an individual’s own loathing and self-doubt reflected back them, amplified through the darkness.

The Drop is a tense and claustrophobic thriller. The bulk of the action unfolds around the small world as Bob knows it. Bob is a simple man. He works at a small dive, “Cousin Marv’s Place.” When asked tough questions, he simply answers, “I just tend bar.” As Bob explains, the dive bar occasionally serves as a “drop” for all the money laundered through local crime. Bob doesn’t know where it comes from or where it goes. He is only aware of it when it comes into his care and when it leaves.

It's a dog's life...

It’s a dog’s life…

The Drop is a story about isolation and loneliness. Characters reflect on their place in the world, trying to make sense of what unfolds around them. Most are unknowable to each other, mysteries and enigmas. Asked a personal question, Bob replies, “That’s my business.” When his friend Nadia asks why Bob never inquired about her own very obvious scars, Bob simply answers, “I figure that’s your business.” The world as Bob knows it is a small place. Maybe it’s constantly getting smaller.

Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his own short story Animal Rescue, The Drop wallows in its own sense of lost direction and impending doom. Michaël R. Roskam’s direction never rushes the story or the actors, allowing the film time to take in the emptiness and hollowness in this small world that briefly intersects with something much bigger and more unpleasant. Perhaps a little too stately and relaxed in places, The Drop is nevertheless an atmospheric delight.

Just Cous...

Just Cous…

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