Archive for The X Files

X?

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by dcairns

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For some reason we’ve started looking back at The X-Files. Partly this was a result of the revival of the series, which yielded two interesting episodes and a lot of really awful waffle from creator Chris Carter, whose indigestible exposition-dumps of mythos/backstory/conspiracy were the reason we stopped watching in the first place.

CC’s best show was probably the pilot, in which Fox Mulder (that name! that impossible name!) is much more eccentric and interesting, something they stamped on later. Then you had a season of the show being a bit too cheap and a bit too repetitive, before they learned that Dan Scully couldn’t always be skeptical and wrong without learning something (Mulder is always right) and then things started to get better, particularly when Darin Morgan was writing and the show could spoof itself while still being itself.

While Morgan’s latest episode drew fire for being TOO silly (and was cannibalized from an abortive effort to revive Kolchak: The Night Stalker), we rather enjoyed it, and got a lot of pleasure out of revisiting Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Emmy-winning per by the great Peter Boyle), War of the Coprophages (a plague of killer roaches — but each incident comes with its own debunking, with a real alien invasion lost in the shuffle) and Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (a RASHOMON of nested unreliable narrations).

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Then we moved onto Vince Gilligan’s episodes, all of which happened after we’d moved on, so they were all new to us. Gilligan didn’t bother deconstructing the show on a weekly basis, which probably allowed him to be more prolific. You do get more of a sense of the stories falling into a format which gets predictable, but on the other hand his specific twists usually still surprise even if you know when they’re coming. And here’s Bryan Cranston, showing what he can do as a racist conspiracy nut with an inner ear condition that will make his head explode if he stops driving, in Drive (basically SPEED, but with an actor’s head instead of a bus). And here’s Diana Scarwid being good and scary as a psychic who can make people do whatever she wants, and SEE whatever she wants.

Nice to see Gilligan addressing the kind of characters conspiracy theories actually appeal to — I mean, apart from everybody. The casual anti-Semitism of Cranston’s character is really surprising, and too complex to resolve in a 45-minute essay (or in a few thousand years of human civilisation, apparently).

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Men from Mars are from Mars

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2016 by dcairns

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Tobe Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS — part of a set of actually quite interesting semi-bad movies he made for bigtime schlockmeisters Cannon (I would never have believe the daywould come when I might feel nostalgic for Cannon, but here we are). LIFEFORCE is a sort of laughable Quatermass-for-and-by-teenage-boys (the monster is the scariest thing ever, a naked girl) and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II is genuinely fucked-up and harrowing, if somewhat incoherent. See it — you’ll be punch-drunk afterwards.

In the 50s, designer-director William Cameron Menzies (name-checked in the high school in the 80s version) made an uncategorizable B-movie sub-classic, which tried its damnest to use a juvenile it-was-all-a-dream structure in an interesting way. I never felt it quite worked but always felt it was interesting, and Menzies’ expressionist child’s-eye sets are terrific.

One surprise with Tobe’s remake is how it doubles down on precisely the elements of the original that seemed dangerously hokey thirty years earlier and were least likely to find favour, one would have thought, with an 80s audience. Though there had been a spate of fantasy films with kid protagonists, IFM was never going to be another ET, was it?

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The central conceit is that of the genuine psychological condition Capgras Syndrome, in which one imagines intimates have been replaced with impostors. Or, in this case, taken over with NECK IMPLANTS. Neck implants appeared in Menzies film before they became part of the mythos of true life alien encounters, which maybe tells you something about true life alien encounters — but maybe only some of them? The cast essay a wide range of approaches to alien possession: Louise Fletcher does her patented ice bitch act, but more manic, but the best players at this are mom Laraine Newman and especially dad Timothy Bottoms, who is helped by Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby’s script, which gives him lots of quirky schtick like gulping scalding coffee supersaturated with undissolved sugar. But his stilted line readings and spooky demeanour are a constant joy. When he unexpectedly appears from behind a bush with a man from the telephone company (everyone hates the telephone company) the scenario seems redolent of cottaging, and Bottoms does great work with his explanation: “He’s from the switching department,” delivered as if this goofy remote-control meatpuppet WANTS the ordinary humans to pick up some Hidden Meaning.

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The other best bit of business for the mandroids is when Fletcher, for no discernible reason, starts reciting “A-E-I-O-U” repeatedly and then launches into a bit of Magwitch’s dialogue from Great Expectations (“get me a file and some wittles”). Interestingly, this is the bit right before Magwitch describes his friend who can crawl through tight spaces and eat your liver — a character who became serial killer Eugene Tooms in The X-Files. Magwitch never mentions that his friends sleeps in a newspaper nest like a hamster, but we can still agree that Great Expectations has had more influence on science-fiction than any other Dickens novel. Apart from Rod Serling’s Carol for Another Christmas, and at least until someone makes a post-apocalyptic version of Little Dorrit. Fletcher’s incongruous recital is wonderful precisely because nothing whatsoever can account for it — she’s a science teacher, not an English teacher, and anyway, WTF?

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Great-beyond-great Stan Winston aliens — he obviously got the same note about this being a pastiche that Bottoms got.

Hooper seems to be riding the Louma crane for the whole flick, serving up sinewy, twisting moves that may not add tension but certainly impart elegance.

I recently interviewed the film’s production designer, Les Dilley, but failed to ask him about this one. Tough brief — the film doesn’t replicate Menzies’ distorted perspectives designed to make the child hero extra-diminutive and overwhelmed, but it still embraces a form of theatrical stylisation unfashionable at the time (same year as BLUE VELVET, though, interestingly). And then there’s a Geiger-ish sensibility to the aliens’ underground lair. The difficulty is, the first INVADERS was replicating the non-cinematic media influences a child of the era would have, from pulp magazines to comic books, bubble-gum cards, radio shows and maybe TV. In all of which, space and space invaders were a definite thing, with set generic qualities (Menzies dutifully includes Bug Eyed Monsters and a Little Green Man). That world of influences has irreversibly split in a thousand directions by the 80s, so the film struggles to create a unified sensibility that feels like it could be a small boy’s dream, though there are some nice details like a NASA security device that beeps like a digital alarm clock. This is all happening in a suburban bedroom…

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And then there’s Bud Cort, who is just insanely wonderful for about five minutes before he gets disintegrated. Most untimely disintegration in sci-fi history, unless you count the guy in ANGRY RED PLANET who waits until the third act before getting dissolved, when he should have taken a Captain Oates long walk as soon as possible and spared us our misery.

There’s a thing: in ANGRY RED P, the Martians warn us to get off their dusty red lawn, but in INVADERS FROM MARS they’ve come here uninvited and dug ruddy great holes. It’s a bit rich, that.

Oh, Karen Black. Nurse. I hope I get sick.

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Sleepwalkies

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2014 by dcairns

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I confess to being underwhelmed by Hannibal (TV version) despite hearing rave reports. One Facebook admirer diagnosed the show’s problem as “the FBI is stupid and everyone’s a serial killer,” which is about right. The FBI part is a bigger problem. I’m at episode 11. There’s a character who was missing for several years, presumed dead. Then that character’s severed arm turns up (it’s that kind of show). Nobody is surprised that the arm is apparently still fresh, nobody thinks to check if it has been frozen, nobody speculates that the arm’s owner might still be alive. I’m betting that the arm’s owner is still alive, but I’ll be annoyed either way.

But apart from shoddy thinking — a show about an FBI agent who can think like a serial killer, whose writers can’t even think like an FBI agent — the show’s problems are hard to diagnose. Fiona complains of a lack of humour, and while it’s true that for a series with one of The Kids in the Hall playing a pathologist and Eddie Izzard as a murderer, it isn’t very funny,but  there are dashes here and there. It obviously owes a debt to The X Files, which borrowed the typed-on place name subtitles from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (and Hannibal borrows Gillian Anderson), but X Files, even outside of the remarkable episodes written by Darin Morgan, had a streak of dry wit just below the surface.

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Hugh Dancy is a more vulnerable Will Graham that William Petersen was in MANHUNTER, despite not being tiny and wee with bandy legs. Mads Mikkelsen is a very good Lecter — while Brian Cox played it casual, which was very effective (he spoke of Michael Mann cutting different takes together so that the character’s intensity fluctuated in an unpredictable way), Mikkelsen underplays to the point of coma, his stillness adding creep factor — if the show could afford to slow down, he would really register.

Despite the oceans of gore, we’re not scared — we’re tired of serial killers and their art installations. When they graduated from making corpses into angels with their flayed backs spread out as wings, to assembling a giant totem pole of body parts  on a deserted beach, Fiona’s reaction was hilarity, which I don’t think tells you something scary about her, though I may be biased.

Hannibal himself reminds me irrestistibly of the guy from Electric Six.

One thing that really charmed me, however, was the scene where Hugh/Will goes sleepwalking, and one of his adopted stray dogs tags along. Sleepwalkies! It’s a good idea. I liked owning a dog, but I got tired of standing in the rain waiting for it to poop. You never met charming girls and got your leashes tangled (another area in which the movies lied to me). But if you could walk them in your sleep… and if your dog was trained as a guide dog so it could keep you out of the path of traffic…

Nice that a show in which the serial killers outnumber the non-serial-killers should offer such a quaint and useful lifestyle tip.

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The scariest thing on Hannibal is this silent, smiling Lilliputian throng, advertising America’s Got Talent. The latest in unobtrusive advertising.