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Entries in ethan peterson (52)

Saturday
Sep162017

In Which We Return Almost Completely To Ourselves

Death Became Them

by ETHAN PETERSON

Glitch
creators Louise Fox & Tony Ayres
Netflix

The worst thing I can ever imagine has happened to Australian police officer James Hayes (Patrick Brammell). After his perfect-looking blonde wife Kate (Emma Booth) dies of breast cancer, he remarries shortly thereafter, falling in love with an annoying brunette named Sarah (Emily Barclay). She becomes pregnant with his child, a blessing he could never achieve with his one true love.

What's so bad about that, you're saying to yourself as you wait for a burrito bowl to be prepared for you. One woman is great; a second pregnant one is usually better. I mean, there is a lot wrong in this scenario, but the downgrade is not worst part. The worst part is, your wife reemerges from her grave looking better than ever, shocked and appalled that you moved on so fast from the most important relationship of your life.

One of the most important aspects of Glitch is that you don't have to worry about the central mystery of the show being that everyone is actually dead, since most of the cast is in fact deceased. Dr. McKellar (Genevieve O'Reilly) is a stringy blonde lesbian, also herself deceased, who woke up in a morgue determined to continue her important research in cellular regeneration. Although this is all her fault, she has little in the way of answers for these freshly alive corpses.

Some of the corpses hail from Australia's stinky, racist path, resulting in lengthy flashbacks where we view the misdeeds of plantation owners and wayward civil servants. Australia is such a usual and unusual country, and although most of Glitch takes place in a small town to which this group of survivors is confined by a strange invisible boundary, we get a full sense of the place as both familiar home and overwhelming outpost on the edge of the wild.

Patrick Brammell is the main peace officer in this town of Yoorana in southeastern Australia. Brammell has the unpleasant job of merely reacting plausibly to everything that is spinning around him. He cannot really admit to anyone what has taken place, and yet he views himself as a paragon of ethics. In most scenes his most central task is to prevent his head from splitting open in frustration. We are constantly waiting for him to snap.

His new wife Sarah is a quivering wet rag. She is one of the most unlikeable people that has ever existed on television. She uses every moment as an excuse to tear apart something in herself in others, and she is completely careless with the things she loves.

The real centerpiece of Glitch is Emma Booth's character Kate. In the first episodes of the show's second season, which will be arriving on Netlfix for global audiences this fall, she is finally finding herself as a non-dead person. Part of her would love to leave Yoorana forever, but since she is not able to do that, she has to find escape wherever she can. She is still in love with her husband, but instead of leaving his wife for her, as any sane individual would do, he chooses to stay with his new baby. He and his wife name the beautiful child Nia.

Television concepts like The Returned have brought to life the reverse Time and Again experience, a mirror universe Outlander. But only Glitch has imagined that people from the past might actually bring a new energy to the world of the present, rather than simply feeling completely lost when out of their own time.

Glitch is a fantastic, intense, frequently violent experience. Giving up on the premise, even for a single scene, would dramatically reduce the stakes. A good soap never drops its pretense, even for a moment. Showrunner Tony Ayres (the original Aussie version of The Slap) never lets the tension let up, and Louise Fox's scripts for this somewhat flimsy concept deftly explore every single aspect of what it means to be alive.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


 

Tuesday
Sep122017

In Which We Fly To The Darkest Reaches Of Face

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.28.46 PM

Generational

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Orville
creator Seth MacFarlane
Fox

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.29.15 PM

What is the mininum amount of enterprise you have to put into a creative task for it to be called original? Star Trek: The Next Generation was a smash hit from the beginning, with its first episode drawing an astonishing 27 million viewers on September 28th, 1987. Unfortunately, the entire first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was utter dogshit, but that did not drive people away, since the only other thing on television at the time was Wheel of Fortune and reruns of M*A*S*H. Patrick Stewart carried the show. The sets were awful, many being reused from previous Star Trek films and television shows, and outside of Brent Spiner and Stewart, the acting was mind-bogglingly stilted.

In time this disaster of an hour of television found its way into some halfway decent writing. The show peaked with a tremendous fifth season, highlighted by the season's penultimate episode, a masterpiece of science fiction titled "The Inner Light." A lot of actors, directors and writers had to pass through Star Trek: The Next Generation to get to that level of quality. Is The Orville attempting the same five year plan? Because if so, I feel decently confident it may never get there.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.28.51 PM

The Orville would normally be conceived as a parody of Star Trek, but it is stunningly sincere in its appropriation. Other than the normally calming presence of the Enterprise's second-in-command, Lieutenant Riker, even the roles of the crew of Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) remain the same. Minorities and women are mere background noise, and yet the relationships between the sexes never advance past getting wackily twisted by alien influence before returning to a muted professionalism.

With CBS sending its most recent Star Trek show to die on its internet service, The Orville is the only brief for the viability of an alien-of-the-week series, and unfortunately for fans of this now-niche genre, it does not acquit itself very well. MacFarlane is an underrated actor with great delivery of lines and natural comic timing, not to mention his singing voice. Sadly, the cast he has surrounded himself with on this tin can leaves a significant amount to be desired.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.28.58 PM

Portraying Mercer's love interest is a clunky Adrienne Palicki. The fact that their marriage fell apart after she cheated on him because he was absent all the time is the central source of "humor" in the show's first episodes. Unfortunately, jokes are few and far between in The Orville, which seems to think of itself as a dramatic series with a few light moments.

Star Trek: The Next Generation also featured quite a few jokes. Many consisted of applying basic human values to the strange practices and cultures that could be found in the universe's many worlds. This human-centric view has not aged very well — we now have substantial reason to believe there is no truly superior culture that exists, and the search for a different way to live makes a lot more sense than the idea of bringing our own views out to a galaxy at large. You want the Milky Way to find out about r/The_Donald?

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.29.01 PM

As such, The Orville is ill-timed. Star Trek: The Next Generation emerged at the end of the Cold War, where democracy itself was sufficiently virtuous to think that spreading various Western values along with it was a worthy proposition. Well, it worked — the world now mostly consists of various messy democracies in our own image.

It is time to take a hard look in the mirror. The world has to teach us something — about how we value human and animal life, how we deal with our natural resources, and how we deal with economic inequality. There must be some evolution, since it is the sole principle that allows life to continue subsisting. We get none of that in The Orville — just the same blandishments and science fiction premises barely based in science, and hardly creative enough to be called fiction. You would be forgiven if you thought you were simply watching a rejected TNG script from thirty years ago.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.29.08 PM

McFarlane must really like Star Trek. Far more probable, however, is that he saw the economic sense behind it. Shot on a limited variety of sets, and only requiring one or two shots of mediocre CGI from time-to-time as the only evidence this show is not thirty years of age, The Orville is not really much of a risk for Fox, who seemingly has been struggling to produce live-action hits since The X-Files.

It is substantially more of a shaky venture to spend your valuable time watching it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a show made in 2017 could be as stupidly self-important as Babylon 5.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

Tuesday
Sep052017

In Which All Of The Men Were Such Interesting Animals

This is the fourth in our ongoing series returning to the films of the French director Jean-Pierre Melville.

Meander

by ETHAN PETERSON

Most of Jean-Pierre Melville's films are tight, austere masterpieces. Le Deuxième Souffle consists of a movement in an opposite direction. "A dishonest, aimless meander," wrote Jean Narboni, a noted Godard admirer, of Melville's 1966 effort. At 140 minutes, it is Melville's longest film; but Army of Shadows which approaches it in in length, contains the added intrigue of being a sorrowful, moving, colorful historical film about Melville's time in the French resistance. Le Deuxième Souffle has none of those advantages. It is a simply the most hard-boiled crime film ever made.

There is a lame cliche that a filmmaker is trying to make the same film again and again, getting closer every time. For Melville, that film was John Huston's crime drama The Asphalt Jungle. With Le Deuxième Souffle, Melville not only approached the raw mood and heist plot of his favorite film, he exceeded it considerably when it came to technical craft, depth of character, and outright excitement. While a few critics seemed to shrug off Le Deuxième Souffle, most were gracious enough to recognize there had never been anything quite like it before.

Melville first tried to put Le Deuxième Souffle together with a completely different cast, ending up in litigation with his producers. When he tried it again in 1965, Lino Ventura was now playing the lead role instead of the considerably less mercurial Serge Reggiani. Both men were very accomplished, understated actors, but Ventura was not only the more physical performer, he was ideal for the role of Gu Minda, a career thief who emerges from prison for one last gasp of freedom.

Ventura and Melville, both headstrong individuals, eventually had a falling out on the set of Army of Shadows. Too bad — the Italian actor and the Jewish director were in many ways an ideal pairing. Ventura needed overwhelming instruction lest he become a hammy parody of a swarthy Mediterranean, and Melville was nothing if not hands-on. At times he would force actors to watch take after take of their scenes, until he totally dissociated them from their abilities. It was at that point when he began to build them back up in the way he preferred.

Gu Minda is a doomed character who escapes from prison in the near silent scene that opens Le Deuxieme Souffle. He has one person in Paris who he can turn to — it is never precisely clear whether this is his girlfriend or his sister, but her name is Manouche (Christine Fabréga).

Manouche is one of Melville's very best characters, and in her scenes alone, we get a glimpse of another peripheral story, deeper than a killer's could ever be. At times the pair seems close enough to be an incestuous pair of siblings. In other moments, like a candlelight dinner they share in the attic where Gu hides out after his escape, it seems clear neither expects much from the romantic relationship other than kindness. This afterbirth of an arrangement only lends more feeling to the idea everything in Le Deuxième Souffle, including Paris, was dying of something.

Positioned around this relationship is a stellar cast of criminals and cops. Their closeness and interchangeability makes it so that when Gu is finally tricked into incriminating himself, we can barely blame him for being deceived. The rest of the diverse cast (in ethnicity as well as style) is highlighted by Michel Constantin, a Russian-French actor who portrays Manouche's bodyguard and Gu's friend. If it were not for the completely reasonable behavior of all the people in this milieu, you would be forgiven for thinking Le Deuxième Souffle consisted of a raw, elemental style over substance.

Melville's feel for the fashion of crime turns Le Deuxième Souffle into his most pleasing visual feast. Even in black and white, the speed with which violence regularly occurs inside small rooms and hallways, out of doors and on the road, is visually stunning and sometimes outright alarming. Watching The Asphalt Jungle in close concert with Le Deuxième Souffle, I was stunned by how much more of Paris there is in the latter than San Francisco of the former. It is like one movie shows us a snow globe and the other a life-size diorama.

The film's climactic platinum heist is all the more highly anticipated because Melville forces us to wait for so long. Although Le Deuxième Souffle does drag at times, the director always snaps his audience back into the mise en scène with a bang. Gu's specialty is his use of guns, and the one-time professional wrestler looked athletic enough to fistfight even at forty-six years of age.

Still, Gu recognizes that he is an old man with only so much left to give. "When you are young, you think that men are interesting animals," Melville told Rui Nogueira in his marvelous collection of interviews with the director, Melville on Melville.

I have no illusion anymore. What is friendship? It is telephoning a friend at night to say, 'Be a pal, get your gun and come over quickly' - and hearing the reply, 'OK, be right there.' Who does that? For whom? Until he is thirty-three, a man is convinced he'll always be twenty years old. Then one day he looks at himself in the mirror and sees that the years have gone by.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.