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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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Star Trek: The Lost Era – Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick (Review)

This November and December, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Well of Souls is a story of the Enterprise-C, the ship introduced in Yesterday’s Enterprise. One of the best-received episodes in the history of Star Trek: The Next GenerationYesterday’s Enterprise established Rachel Garrett’s ship as the troubled Enterprise, the tragic flagship, the doomed space craft. Ilsa J. Bick builds on that characterisation in Well of Souls, one small story from some point in Garrett’s command of the Federation flagship.

While Well of Souls feels like a rather unconventional Star Trek novel, it is charming in its own way. Bick connects her tale to the themes of Well of Souls, suggesting a troubled ship manned by a struggling crew. The novel returns time and again to the theme of unfortunate choices, the weight of making the best decision of the options open. Unlike Kirk or Picard, Bick seems to suggest, this version of the iconic starship doesn’t get that many lucky breaks, with her crew repeatedly forced to accept the least bad of a selection of unappetising choices.

Well of Souls is  a thoughtful, introspective piece. It doesn’t flow or pace itself as well as it might, but Bick crafts a compelling picture the never-the-less. While not quite the best of the Lost Era tie-in novels, it’s ambitious and insightful. It lacks the energy of Serpents Among the Ruins or The Art of the Impossible, but it’s still a very worthy read for anybody looking to sketch out a gap in the Star Trek mythos.

tng-wellofsouls

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The High Ground is a rather earnest issue-driven episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, dealing with one of the big issues of the day: international terrorism. However, the moral ambiguity of terrorism was a decidedly more contentious and controversial issue in early 1990 than the plight of Vietnam veterans explored in The Hunted or the Cold War politics of The Defector.

The High Ground is an allegory for the Troubles in Northern Ireland at a point in time where the Troubles were on-going. 1990 saw a number of high-profile terrorist actions conducted by the IRA. They bombed the London Stock Exchange in July. Using an explosive device, they murdered Sergeant Charles Chapman in May. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for his death. In February 1991, the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. So this was the context in which The High Ground aired.

And, to be fair, there’s something admirable about the show’s willingness to engage with a controversial issue, even if the end result leaves a lot to be desired.

Holding hands around the universe...

Holding hands around the universe…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Emissary (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Emissary is one of the stronger episodes from the tail end of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s second season. An interesting meditation on heritage and race, as well as an insightful character piece for Worf, The Emissary is an interesting exploration of Worf’s relationship to his culture – and how his experience is far from universal. It’s the sort of story that The Next Generation should have been producing on a more consistent basis, but it’s better late than never.

Bonded by blood...

Bonded by blood…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Up the Long Ladder (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s been a while since Star Trek: The Next Generation has been openly offensive. So, just in case you’d forgotten that this was the same production staff that gave us “Riker beams down to a planet of beautiful women and screws their heads on straight” or “Troi’s womb is occupied by an alien intelligence, isn’t that cute?”, the writing staff have conspired to remind us that just because prejudice doesn’t exist in the 24th century (tell that to the Ferengi!) doesn’t mean that it can’t exist inside a late twentieth century writing room.

Begosh and begorrah! The space Oirish are coming!

"Wait, we're actually filming this?"

“Wait, we’re actually filming this?”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Contagion (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Contagion is a nice reminder that the average quality of Star Trek: The Next Generation is improving. While the stand-out episodes of the second season of The Next Generation tend to attract a lot of attention, the more solid episodes tend to get a bit lost in the discussion. Contagion doesn’t rank alongside Elementary, Dear Data, A Matter of Honour, The Measure of a Man or Q Who?, but it’s still demonstrating that we’ve reached a point where the show can churn out a pretty good episode without it feeling like a special occasion.

It’s a bit of a shame, then, that Contagion comes from two individuals outside the show’s writers’ room.

The Yamato rests in pieces...

The Yamato rests in pieces…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Dauphin (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Dauphin ends what looked like the beginning of a winning streak for the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both A Matter of Honour and The Measure of a Man represented a significant shift in gear for the show – a demonstration of just what The Next Generation was capable of at the top of its game. The Dauphin, in contrast, is a decidedly generic little episode.

It doesn’t help that it’s a character episode devoted to Wesley Crusher as a teenage protagonist on the Enterprise. Wesley was always a character who posed a bit of a problem for the show. There were times when bad writing and Wheaton’s less-than-nuanced performance saw the character threatening to turn The Next Generation into a plucky teenage science-fiction adventure series. Watch the boy genius save the ship while the trained professionals around him are useless!

While A Matter of Honour teased a way of making Wesley work in the context of the show, The Dauphin falls back into familiar traps. It’s a poorly-written teenage romance with some awful dialogue and two rather wooden leads, using familiar Star Trek trappings.

A rocky relationship?

A rocky relationship?

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My 12 for ’13: Only God Forgives & Neon Nightmares…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 7…

Few films this year have stayed with me as vividly as the rich and disturbing visual and aural landscape of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. It’s a decent into a neon hell, a world half-inhabited by the damned and stalked by demons. With Cliff Martinez’s pounding score still echoing through my head long after my last viewing, Only God Forgives is a haunting piece of cinema, a nightmare captured on digital.

onlygodforgives6

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My 12 for ’13: Iron Man 3 & Shane Black’s Christmas in April

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 9…

While Tim Burton’s underrated Batman Returns remains the definitive superhero Christmas movie, Iron Man 3 comes pretty darn close. Which is very strange, for a movie released in towards the end of April in Europe and in the United States in early May. This paradoxical festivity is just one of the many ways that Iron Man 3 feels more like a Shane Black film than a piece of the expansive and ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that’s a good thing.

ironman3a

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