Skip to main content

My life's become a punchline.

The X-Files
10.1: My Struggle

I must count as one of the few who actually liked 2008’s I Want to Believe. It wasn’t anything special, admittedly, but Chris Carter’s decision to base the plot around a paedophile priest, while drawing inspiration from Dirty Pretty Things and Body Parts, was almost perversely commendable as an act self-sabotaging any prospects the series might have of garnering a cinematic second wind. It was also a relief to have no connection at all to the over-arching alien conspiracy he’d progressively made such a hash of during his near decade steering the show. My Struggle, alas, finds Carter cobbling together more alien shenanigans, with little in the way of conviction. As such, it’s really the pleasure of seeing the old team back together that sees the first of this mini-event season through.


Carter’s pretty much the George Lucas of The X-Filesuniverse, only without the billionaire part. If only he would divest himself of the show, it might have a chance to explore untold new climes (someone could base a whole new seven season arc just on the provocative paradigms of Corey Goode, let alone the snowballing of conspiracy theories in almost any given aspect of the news and media since the series finished in 2002). Instead, we’re dragged back to familiar territory of humans with alien DNA, Carter’s peculiar reasoning being this might work as some kind of hook. Most bizarrely, he sees fit to revisit probably the weakest season of the show, the fifth (it’s either that or Seven), in which Mulder becomes convinced the alien conspiracy is all a hoax and grows disillusioned, only to get his mojo back in time for Fight the Future.


Except that here Mulder admits to aliens; it’s only the abductions that are being undertaken by humans (not exactly a new idea, even within the show’s confines). The episode rather garbles Mulder’s argument, almost as if Carter is tired just dredging up the same-old, same-old (“What if there is no alien conspiracy?” asks Fox – what he means is one by them, as opposed to involving them) Where did the DNA come from? Roswell, of course. Presumably Carter returned to this warty old standby because he’s got one eye on luring potential new audiences with something broadly familiar. It’s rather feeble, though. As is the notion that the Cigarette Smoking Man somehow still carries some juice (he stopped being interesting as soon as Carter realised he was popular enough to furnish with devoted episodes). Too much of My Struggle is stuck in the ‘90s, rather than embracing the chance its makers have to show they acutely understand that TV has moved on in the last decade or so.


What makes this particularly frustrating is that Carter’s clearly aware of this low-hanging fruitful material, even furnishing the episode with an Alex Jones-esque conservative conspiracy monger (Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley), making an industry out of paranoia. And nodding to how mainstream all this is now (in the wake of influence of The X-Files itself); “My life’s become a punchline” observes Mulder, seeing Obama exchanging quips about UFOs on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But O’Malley is wheeled on as a rather unconvincing facilitator for reinstituting the X-Files and bringing Mulder and Scully back together (they’re estranged, which is something at least), only for him to shut everything down when his star witness turns on him. Who then gets blown up by a UFO?! As wrap-up devices go, it’s about as rushed and unconvincing as the series was at its worst.


More interesting is Mulder happening across an ARV (Alien Replica Vehicle), which for some reason O’Malley hasn’t gone straight on TV with, and Mulder imparting that free energy has been intentionally supressed while the oil companies make billions (very Tesla). Carter’s always been good at giving Mulder lists-come-monologues, and Duchovny seems right at home nursing that faintly bored, dry, deadpan drawl again.


In the opening Mulder cites various mass sightings, and the admissions of Ed Mitchell and Gerald Ford, then sadly admits “But now people only laugh, and only Roswell is remembered”. They’re mostly laughing because of Carter’s nonsensically labyrinthine plotting, though, and the line could be seen as a meta-commentary on the demise of the show itself. There’s a mention of 911 as a false flag (I doubt they’ll actually go there in an episode, whatever the future holds for the show), GM food, and “They police us, and spy on us, tell us that makes us safer? We’ve never been in more danger”; the most astute thing Carter does here (and there aren’t many, sadly) is to draw parallel lines  between the more liberal, New-Agey thinking of Mulder and the arms-maketh-the-man rhetoric of the right wing shock jock; when distrust of the presiding establishment is so endemic, there’s bound to be common ground, such that it’s Scully, with her staple quizzical head back on (there’s no Doggett around to make her the de facto believer) accusing him of being stupid and borderline treasonous.


It’s an episode of soundbite lines, with a barely adequate supporting structure, all the better for Carter to set out his over-familiar stall. Mulder can ignore all the evidence of aliens he saw with his own eyes for the sake of “I only want to believe” (“Actual proof has been strangely hard to come by”; well, I guess the memory takes a knock after a decade and a half), and the 2012 invasion was now never going to come to pass (Carter couldn’t not mention it), retconned as the initiation of a countdown. We’re supposed to be satisfied with the new key mystery being the rather fragile question of what these abductions are for. All this time Chris, and that’s the best you could come up with?


This amid mentions of corporate greed and the takeover of America, weather control and a state of perpetual war to enslave the population, the Patriot Act, militarised police forces, prison camps, drones, mass monitoring, WikiLeaks and the ruse of false flag Russian or terrorist or alien invasion to initiate martial law. All named and potentially juicy narrative engines, but Carter bums us out with a tired one.


Duchovny is a little squinty and jowlier, slowly turning into Droopy as he ages, while Gillian looks ever more finely sculpted. Mitch Pileggi is only shinier of dome, otherwise exactly the same as he ever was. Despite the return to Vancouver, this lacks the portentous atmosphere its pregnant skies used to instil. The exploding psychic girl is used to impart Scully-Mulder backstory (“You were a couple before”) but fortunately little substance is given to a relationship stone that was best left unturned. The downside is, this also seems symptomatic of Carter’s abiding affection for the reset, rather than using this opportunity to fully invest his characters and make new hay with new stories.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Well, in this case, the cats are going to kill the curious.

The Avengers 5.8: The Hidden Tiger
Another of the season's apparent run-on ideas, as the teaser depicts a character's point-of-view evisceration by aggressor unknown. Could this be the Winged Avenger at work? No, it's, as the title suggests, an attacker of the feline persuasion. If that's deeply unconvincing once revealed, returning director Sidney Havers makes the attacks themselves highly memorable, as the victims attempt to fend off claws or escape them in slow motion.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…