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Lost In Sci-Fi: The X-Files

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Lost In Sci-Fi: The X-Files

This week the crew looks back and forward to The X-Files. That little sci-fi show from the 90s that became a pop culture phenomenon. Elizabeth and Jada are huge fans, where Leland’s only ever watched a few episodes. He gets to ask all his questions and gets schooled. Also we take Lucifer to the mat and beat the crap out of it. Good times. Please download and enjoy! Read On

Binary System Podcast #23 – Return of The X-Files

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Binary System Podcast #23 – Return of The X-Files

It’s another week and still no Night Vale, but that’s okay because we’ve got X-Files! The twins break down the first episode of the new X-Files series, with all the conspiracies, explosions, and the complete lack of anybody making out with anybody else. But they get away from that for a bit to talk about Twin Peaks (because David Duchovny’s in that) and Top Gear (because Gillian Anderson’s in that) so really, they didn’t get very far away at all.

Read On

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X-Files: I Want To Believe

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Full disclosure: I watched the X-Files television series until the first movie came out. I was so disgusted with the transparent clumsiness of the story (so much more forgivable on TV) that I stopped watching the show. Curiosity and a cautious sort of press buzz (“it’s a stand-alone episodes even non-fans can love!”) drew me back in. I am not so dishonorable as to spoil any plot points, since the few surprises are nearly all the pleasure this film affords. However, I will say that it does feel like an episode, padded out to 104 minutes (that’s a full extra hour) with unnecessary scenes of walking, driving, helicoptering, and reiterating circular and uninteresting arguments. So no, I didn’t so much like it.

We meet Scully and Mulder again in real time, ten years since we last saw them. To say they are jaded about their FBI experiences is no understatement. They are called in — well, Mulder is — ostensibly to provide the unique experience and talents developed from the X-Files heyday. However, despite basically being in the same room as the investigators and their targets, Mulder does nothing that hasn’t already been done by the regulars and contributes nothing but doleful monologues to the proceedings. It’s like having H & R Block in to review your completed 1040 EZ forms.

The story adheres to the show’s tradition of stand-alone episodes, without involving conspiracy, aliens, bees, black oil, Cigarette Smoking Man, or any plot devices that require the audience to have see the show before (unless they want to understand the relationship the leads have). The fun of Mulder and Scully’s dynamic on the show was Mulder’s credulousness and Scully’s scientific skepticism, coupled with his implied atheism and her Catholicism. It made for a fun give and take when they were confronted with demons, space invaders, faith healers, circus freaks, lunatics, and government conspiracies.

Here, despite a conservative hospital, a disgraced clergyman, and Mulder’s natural tendency to believe in the paranormal until proved normal, X-Files 2 does not wrestle with faith or tenacity of beliefs so much as fling pebbles at these concepts from across the schoolyard. Scully spends a lot of time insisting on keeping her life as it is now (which is also unclear) and not regressing to those dark days working with Mulder. To someone who didn’t see how they left it at the end of the show, she seems to be fully engaged in that life anyway.

Billy Connolly is wasted in an interesting role, reduced to resolution-free bickering and an irritating lack of arc for someone who merits his own movie, rather than facilitating this one. Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica) appears, entertaining my companion and I as we attribute all his behavior to the fact that he is a Cylon. Actually, such a plot device would have been more X-Filesy and more entertaining and less silly than what actually occurs, which is more like a gag cut from Futurama. Perhaps I have said too much.

The X-Files were special when they were on the air, new and dark, thoughtful and complex, with lots of luxurious faith versus credulousness conversations and scary bits. The then-new possibilities of topics and long story arcs on television were exciting novelties back in the days when studios would never believe audiences would have such long memories or ardent fandom. Unfortunately for this movie, television evolved well past this degree of silliness and spoon feeding (see also: Space: Above and Beyond), leaving our beloved old friends in the vault. I wanted to believe it would be a fun movie, but my companion put it best: “This was definitely time spent.”

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/25/08
Time in minutes 105
Director Chris Carter
Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Last King of Scotland

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Much has been said already about Forest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin (legendary dictator of Uganda) in this film, and when one sits down with such high expectations, one tends to be disappointed. However, Whitaker’s portrayal of this fascinating and complex man is truly a wonder to behold.

Our lead character is actually Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (played by James McAvoy), who jaunts off to Uganda to make a difference and have an adventure. He comes from a stifling home and just wants to plunge into life and really matter while he does it. Amin has just taken over the country in a coup (arranged by the British), and Garrigan’s accidental acquaintance with Amin follows the arc of his reign over Uganda from parades to assassination attempts. I suspect Giles Foden’s book is intensely fascinating.

We see Amin’s charming, funny side, his passionate side, his intentions and dreams. Whitaker said on NPR that he consulted with the family to be certain to bring as many sides to this man who is generally written off as a one-dimensional monster. When Garrigan encounters Amin, the new president is injured, feral, a wounded lion with sharp claws, confused and blinded by pain. From here we can see the flickering shadows of the man would get to know as The Wild Man of Africa. Garrigan’s European optimism (and previously sheltered existence) blind him to some of the red flags as he is swept up into a grander adventure than he had ever dared hope for. Amin is like an all-embracing patriarch, but also like a furious toddler, bubbling with rage and irrational rejection of reasonable argument. His paranoia and distrust consume his country. He has a terrifying personality, able to swing from intense love and trust to abject brutality with the flick of an eyelid. He was a tempestuous man, and Whitaker somehow channels this intense energy without resorting to Pacinoesque histrionics.

Amin’s fetishistic belief in his good luck charms and the near-magical power he gets from his sense of Anglophilia make him seem quirky, charming and harmless – a man in a kilt, ho ho! – even as it spells out disaster. Watching the Bretons who put him in power scramble to cover their tracks adds to the unease and paranoia already engendered by Amin’s increasingly arbitrary policies. The sycophants’ sweaty grins of fear echo Amin’s self-fulfilling prophecies of treachery and disaster. He is all id with no restraint.

Whitaker is electrifying (I hate it when critics use that word, but seriously, it applies), but the film itself is merely agur for his performance. I had very little sense of a time line and Garrigan was only developed enough as a character to get him through the door and then hope he can claw his way out again. Gillian Anderson makes a brief and not-quite-relevant appearance looking immeasurably sexy, but her segment is really just delaying the real entrée that is Whitaker.

My complaints are minor when stacked against a fascinating portrait of a terrible time and a charismatic philosopher-animal like Amin. It’s definitely worth your time and money.

MPAA Rating R-strong language, gruesome images, sexuality
Release date 9/27/06
Time in minutes 121
Director Kevin MacDonald
Studio Fox Searchlight

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Princess Mononoke

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Mononoke Hime

Oh how I am spoiled by the big studios’ animation departments – television just doesn’t look the same anymore. I must amend this with the movements might be more jerky, but the design of Princess Mononoke is still up there with the big boys – this is one pretty film!

Those unfamiliar with Japanese animation, aka Japanimation aka anime, should check out Princess Mononoke. The title makes it sound like Mulan, and the general green, eco-friendly theme makes it sound like the Lion King, but it should not be a turnoff. It’s an action/adventure, it’s a big mythological epic, and it’s very long (don’t get a soda!) and involved. Do pay attention to the names of the gods as well as the humans. The design of everything is beautiful – the curse is represented visually which is very cool and quite scary (I should also mention this movie is not for kids – some serious R-rated violence in here!), the glade where the spirit of the forest lives (sounds hokey but it is soooo cool!), everything is awesome looking! I have to revert to high school language to get it across – it’s the simple childish joy of seeing nicely rendered color convey dampness or danger or magic or death or – I can’t explain it! It’s very interesting, it is a *little* long, but as long as you go in with an open mind and heart (and don’t roll your post-modern eyes at the mythological aspects of these people and their attempt at living harmoniously with the forest) I think you will enjoy it.

In short, a young man is infected with a demon’s curse and travels to jump in the middle of an earth-shattering humans/gods war. The gods are amazing, the scenery is gorgeous, and the only thing weird is hearing Billy Bob Thornton and Jada Pinkett Smith’s voices coming out of these people’s elfin faces! Don’t do what I did and labor trying to figure the other voices are – hit the IMDB before you go to get yourself prepped. And yes, that’s Gillian Anderson as a giant white wolf. It works, actually!

Being unfamiliar with director Hayao Miyazaki’s other work, as well as anime in general, I ran to the IMDB to check it out, and against my normal habit, read a viewer review. Apparently, this movie is top of the line anime (like I say, I am spoiled by Disney and Dreamworks and Fox and now WB) and the viewer saw it in Japanese with no subtitles or knowledge of Japanese and still loved it. I enjoyed it greatly (but it sure is weird seeing such pretty, delicate people be decapitated and whatnot in battle!) but I am far from an expert in the genre. I am pleased that I have had such a good introduction (besides the 1970’s Our Star Blazers or was it G-Force?) now – it is a very different animation form, with fewer frames of artwork (thereby jerkier) but with much more delicately rendered colors and figures. Very nice.

MPAA Rating PG-13 for images of violence and gore
Release date 10/29/99
Time in minutes 165
Director Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Miramax

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X Files : Fight the Future

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Sundays at 9, 8 Central.

“That’s not a rating!” my readers cry out. “That’s when the show is on.” Exactly my point, my friends, exactly. With 60 million dollars, all I ask for my hard earned $6.75 is to get something more than I get on the show – either in plot revelation, character development, special effects, SOMETHING. I was disappointed. One of my party was not a viewer of the show, and he found the movie compelling. I have watched sporadically for about 2 years, and I fell asleep 3 times. Once during a chase scene.

It starts out well, with some amusing banter meant to introduce the characters to any X virgins, and I looked forward to a Star Trek: The Movie style inside joke fest laced with plot. Nope! I hoped for expensive stuff, and I got seven helicopters and some non-Vancouver locations, but basically nothing else. Chris Carter has been promising questions answered, characters developed – but after carefully absorbing the last 3 episodes of the series, nothing from those episodes was even addressed. No Mimi Rogers character, no followup, just some new stuff introduced and left untied, just like an average episode. No sewn-eyed freaky people, no Krychek – what the hell am I sitting here in this theatre, I could be seeing Clockwatchers!

So, I guess if you are a fan, you should go, because I’m sure in the grand scheme of things people who miss this special 2 1/2 hr episode will miss some important information if they miss the movie. The biggest laugh I got was the four of us simultaneously squeaking “I made this” when the Ten Thirteen logo came up, and when my seatmate asked if I would explain the plot as the movie went along. I would also like to (sarcastically) thank Hollywood for again making Texas look like a crappy, flat, vile place where you can see Dallas from Amarillo.

HERE IS THE PART THAT GIVES AWAY PLOT. I am forgoing my rule for this movie – so stop now if you actually expect to be surprised by the film. I am trying to be oblique here, just in case you can’t help it.
OK, an average episode, one hour, crammed with interesting stuff. This movie, not even crammed with an hour’s worth. Realism blown out of the window – why would agents be blamed for a terrorist’s actions? How could all this stuff occur and no one see it – reconnaissance planes, entomologists, seismologists, neighbors? Then the amazing derivativeness of the 3rd reel – after the impressive amount of innovation in the series, how can they rip off so many movies in such a short period of time. The show is not holy to me by any stretch, but I had hoped that the limitations imposed by the small screen would be eliminated by a bigger budget, bigger scope, bigger medium. No such luck.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/19/98
Time in minutes 117
Director Rob Bowman
Studio 20th Century Fox