Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘Reunion’ (3×03 – Review)

In 2018, we began a deep-dive TV review series looking at J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at Season Three’s 22-episode run in detail…

Reunion is a classic example of Alias on auto-pilot, delivering the kind of throwaway hour of the series filled with scenes and moments most fans probably barely remember.

This makes a degree of sense given how The Two and Succession both had an enormous job to perform of establishing the new status quo of Season Three’s altered landscape, provide Sydney with a set of core new arcs for her character, and re-introduce both our long-term supporting players and crucial new additions, such as Vaughn’s wife, NSC agent Lauren Reed. Reunion is, therefore, the first conventional episode of Alias’ much truncated ‘stand-alone’ structure, although from the season premiere J. J. Abrams established that Alias, by its very nature, will never be entirely a contained episodic series of old. Jeff Pinkner’s first script of the season shows off that new structural format; a central ‘espionage of the week’ plotline flanked by a number of ongoing character and story arcs.

The worrying part of this is just how anodyne Reunion turns out to be as an episode. It reminded me of Season Two’s third episode, Cipher, which perhaps stands as the most disposable story in that otherwise propulsive season, and while Reunion is perhaps given a run for its money this season for that accolade by outings such as Crossings or Taken, and does at least contain the last vestiges of narrative establishment for this season with Syd and Lauren’s interaction, much like Cipher it contains several relatively unmemorable missions and Sark operating in a barely sketched, ‘rent a baddie’ role. Reunion simply feels like a collection of necessary character beats for the seasonal arc stitched together by a thin main story which, ultimately, means nothing to the show as a whole.

Reunion stands as probably the least thrilling or dynamic hour of the season’s first half, even if it at least has some element of necessary form and function.

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Book Review: WHEN THE MOVIES MATTERED – THE NEW HOLLYWOOD REVISITED (edited by Jonathan Kirshner & Jon Lewis)

Eric Gilliland with a review of When the Movies Mattered: The New Hollywood Revisited

When the Movies Mattered is a collection of ten essays edited by Jonathan Kirshner and Jon Lewis that reassess the New Hollywood years that spanned from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. As this period in American movies drifts further from the rearview mirror, new perspectives are taking shape. The thematic obsessions of the era – paranoia, political corruption, violence, the Vietnam War, and a general ambivalence towards post-war America influenced a generation of film goers and continues to be discussed and debated.

Many of the contributors were active writers during the era and offer perspectives tempered by the passage of time, free of nostalgia, replete with insight.

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Sci-Fi TV – BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY

In a new series looking at classic sci-fi TV, Jeff Fountain takes us back to the ’70s and forward four hundred years to look at Glen A. Larson’s disco classic, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

It’s easy to look back at old sci-fi show’s from the 70’s and 80’s and laugh, brushing them off as silly, with poor effects, bad acting and more. To be fair, many of those things exist in these shows but to no lesser degree than in modern shows.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was different. It was more about fun than anything else. Space adventures, scantily clad women (something you would come to expect in a Glen A. Larson production) and the idea of not fitting in, something most of us have experienced in our lifetime. If anything, this was a good roadmap to follow, even if the show went off the rails at different times for very different reasons.

Buck Rogers had a lot in common with another Larson production (Larson was a big name in the ’70s in ’80s) the original Battlestar Galactica. Universal had released the pilot of Battlestar Galactica in theaters and it did well, prompting them to do the same thing with the pilot for Buck Rogers. It too was a success and Universal gave the green light for a weekly series, albeit with a slightly modified pilot. Buck Rogers also recycled some props from Battlestar Galactica, as well as using similar shots and costumes.

The show kicked off what would be a short lived series on September 20th, 1979.

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New Affiliate Podcast: MOTION PICTURES – ‘A Tribute to Sir Sean Connery’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Motion Pictures, myself and my co-host Carl Sweeney take a break from our traditional format to lament the passing of the late, great, Sir Sean Connery, who recently passed away at the age of 90.

We discuss his career at large, talking through the eras he was on screen from James Bond through to Allan Quatermain, and what made him such a powerful, immortal screen icon…

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Two Nations Under God: Thoughts on the 2020 U.S. Election

A. J. Black reflects on the recent victory of Joe Biden, America in politics and culture, and where we go from here…

One thing that became clear in the run up to the 2020 Presidential election in the United States was that this particular battle was not just about America. It was about the entire world.

You will often hear from the more extremist or conservative Americans, upon any point of criticism regarding their politics, that if you’re not from America, you have no business commenting on the politics of the country. I’m not sure that’s ever been true. If Americans don’t comment on British or French or German elections, it’s more likely they simply aren’t paying any attention to European matters. It doesn’t work that way for us, in the U.K. at least, and in the matter of Joe Biden vs Donald Trump, it hasn’t been the case for the majority of a planet who otherwise, in any other electoral race, might only have paid a modicum of attention.

This one? We’ve all been watching.

The reason is obvious. Donald Trump has presided over perhaps the most tumultuous period of American history, and the most fractured and polarising government, in decades, if not since the 19th century. Was it this bad at the end of a protest-filled 1960s, having suffered presidential assassinations, dubious wars, and the murder of civil rights totems? Those alive at the time are the best people to attest to that. In my lifetime, the last almost forty years, America has never been so inflamed, outraged, horrified and terrified, not even in the wake of 9/11. That was my generation’s Kennedy assassination – the seismic psychological and political shock to global society, but we’ve never seen anything like Trump in the White House.

Now he’s going. For all his protestations, he will be gone. And I’m doing a great deal of thinking, about the recent past and the coming future…

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New Affiliate Podcast: BLAIR WITCH MINUTE – ‘Minute 1: A Year Later Their Footage Was Found’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Blair Witch Minute, myself and my guest Mike Jozic continue discussing the introduction of the film as we see the Haxan logo, and the film’s legendary opening description…

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New Affiliate Podcast: MOTION PICTURES – ‘Hitchcock & Wheatley (Rebecca)’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Motion Pictures, myself and my co-host Carl Sweeney, in a special crossover event with The Movie Palace podcast, focus in on Daphne du Maurier’s legendary Gothic melodrama Rebecca.

We focus on Ben Wheatley’s brand new adaptation, drawing comparisons and differences with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1940 version, and discuss the new film’s ins & outs. Does it do the novel justice, or Hitchcock’s film? Does it track with Wheatley’s previous output? And who, exactly, is this new version for?

Plus! We share our thoughts on Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm after the last episode, and discuss the intriguing possibility of No Time to Die premiering on a streaming service…

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Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘Succession’ (3×02 – Review)

In 2018, we began a deep-dive TV review series looking at J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at Season Three’s 22-episode run in detail…

While in one respect Succession is the unofficial second part of Season Three’s introduction, it works to engage in Alias’ tricky new mission statement of fusing seriality and stand alone storytelling.

The final episode penned by the duo of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, both destined for greater cinematic and TV success, Succession’s very teaser balances these two aspects. On the one hand it provides a ‘cold open’, with the two CIA agents in Berlin trapped in a lift that rather plummeting—as we saw last season in A Dark Turn—to the ground is rather inverted, the agents lifted off by helicopter and abducted by air. The episode then plunges us headlong into a follow-up from the climactic moment of The Two, where Syd learned she murdered a man in her missing years, Andrian Lazarey. Her scene with Jack underlines that, once again, the Bristow’s will compartmentalise and keep secrets from the CIA as they search for the truth, by now as much an Alias trope as an IMF mole is to a Mission Impossible film.

Succession works, alongside this, to try and encourage Sydney to return to some level of normalcy. “For now, you deserve to get on with your life” suggests Jack, after making his daughter complicit in cover up of a murder from America’s most powerful intelligence agency, which almost seems like a mixed message. In reality, this is Orci & Kurtzman encouraging the audience to further accept the new status quo for Syd as the dust settles from the events of The Telling, our characters begin working themselves into their new clothes on this shifted chess board of alliances and villains, and Alias suggests it will try and have its cake and eat it: remove Syd from the complexity of working as a double agent while still doubling down on mystery and mythology.

By the end of Succession, however, all of those new pieces have slotted into place, even if it takes until the very final few moments of the episode to do it.

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Nobody Did It Better: Losing SEAN CONNERY

Following the sad loss of Sean Connery at the age of 90, A. J. Black talks about what the legendary Scottish actor meant to him…

We all have them. They’re all different. They all mean something unique. The childhood hero, the person in the public eye who inspires you, is a special and personal thing for us all.

I was never one to have too many heroes to the extent of extreme fan worship. Many years ago, I worked with a chap who was obsessed with two lesser known American character actors (Adam Baldwin and Brad Greenquist, who weirdly will be popping up again on my next Alias review…) to the degree he would follow them around and collect any and all memorabilia. Fair play, it made him happy. But I have never been that obsessed with any one person. TV shows and movies? Sure. Anyone reading this knows I have spent more time in my 38 years thinking about and watching The X-Files, Star Trek and James Bond than is probably healthy. Yet it didn’t always extend to the people involved in those properties.

Sean Connery was rare, for me, in being the kind of actor and persona who did serve as something of a formative icon in my younger years. His loss, at the princely age of 90 years old (having not long celebrated his birthday), is not one to mourn as a tragedy of the like we saw with Chadwick Boseman this summer. Yet in my piece talking about how his death had affected me, I mentioned my dread at the day we lost Connery, because like Roger Moore—whose death I also vividly remember as another childhood hero—this one means something to me. It does feel like losing a part of your own life and, as my friend Zach Moore recently commented to me, it’s “hard to believe we now live in a world without him”.

It is indeed. He was a unique breed in many ways. We will never see his like again.

Continue reading “Nobody Did It Better: Losing SEAN CONNERY”

Spider-Men… Spider-Men: The Tangled Web of the Multiverse

Craig McKenzie discusses the concept of the ‘Multiverse’ in comic book entertainment and how it might develop in the near future…

Multiverses are swiftly becoming all the rage in genre film and TV.

For those who aren’t immediately clear on what constitutes a multiverse, it can best be summed up as when a property holds multiple continuities that aren’t connected. A good recent high profile example of this is the Star Trek franchise. The 2009 J.J. Abrams movie started a continuity that splintered off from the main one with stories happening in both that don’t connect to one another.

This isn’t a new idea as alternate realities have been a mainstay of science fiction for a long time. Star Trek famously popularised this with the landmark episode Mirror, Mirror where an alternate universe was introduced in which most of the characters were evil. Doctor Who would later put its own spin on alternate realities. Over the years many TV shows and movies would use this concept to explore “what if?” scenarios that place the characters in alternate situations that they wouldn’t normally face.

Writers enjoy these stories as it means they can do whatever they want without impacting the core continuity of the property they are playing with.

The multiverse concept received a lot of recent attention through the rumours that the next Spider-Man movie may include the previous two live action cinematic Peter Parker actors, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, reprising their roles to swing into action alongside current incumbent of the spider suit, Tom Holland. Nothing has been explicitly confirmed yet but there is a conspicuous lack of denial on Sony’s part. Without a doubt this is a response to the immense success of the 2018 animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which saw different iterations of the character teaming up. It was sharply written, beautifully animated and caught on in a really big way, so it makes complete sense that Sony would want to capitalise on this success as much as possible.

In my view this is a great idea at least on paper as I really like the previous two iterations of Spider-Man so the prospect of seeing them share the screen is something I find personally exciting. Andrew Garfield is my favourite live action Peter Parker, even if the films he appeared in have significant flaws, though as always whether it proves worthwhile depends on the execution. The film will also feature Doctor Stephen Strange, who likely acts as the vehicle to bring these three versions of the character together, so hopefully the writing will be sharp enough to unite these alt-universe Spider-Men in a meaningful way and deliver an immensely fun viewing experience.

One of the questions around this is whether general cinema audiences are ready to accept the multiverse concept, and whether they will find it easy enough to follow.

The answer to that is complicated but it’s worth noting that audiences have been primed for this for quite some time. In terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the word “multiverse” was first mentioned in Doctor Strange in 2016, though at that point it was only in the context of it being a power source rather than something that could be explored and introduce alternate versions of the characters. Avengers: Endgame in 2019 would go onto tell what amounted to a multiverse story without actually using the term, with characters visiting past events in the MCU and creating alternate realities as they went. In essence their arrival would create a reality disconnected from the one they were trying to save, suggesting that what they did in the past wouldn’t impact the present. It was a bit of a cheat but audiences got along with it just fine.

An upcoming MCU film is called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness so that strongly suggests the idea will be further developed in that film to further prime audiences for the third Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. Of course Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was popular and went to great lengths to ensure that viewers understood what was happening and why it was significant. Based solely on the Marvel Cinematic Universe I’m confident in my assumption that audiences will easily accept this.

Other properties have been using the multiverse for quite some time. Season 2 of The Flash introduced the multiverse and slowly developed the concept over the course of the season until it became a fundamental part of the show as well as the shared universe that it inhabits before culminating in the TV crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths. In this case the producers of The Flash were introducing a concept that had been a big part of the comics for decades and using it as a way to have fun with different possibilities. Crisis on Infinite Earths featured cameos from both current and previous DC live action properties such as Burt Ward from the ’60s Batman series, Tom Welling’s Clark Kent from Smallville and Brandon Routh’s Superman last seen in Superman Returns. Current cameos included Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen aka The Flash seen in the recent DC movies.

Speaking of the DC movies, the massive DC fan event, Fandome, provided some long awaited information on the upcoming Flash movie, Flashpoint.

It had been confirmed prior to this event that Michael Keaton would be returning as his version of Batman and shortly after the event it was confirmed that Ben Affleck would be doing the same as his take on the Caped Crusader. These developments, combined with Robert Pattinson’s upcoming version of the character in The Batman, means that there are three active cinematic versions of Batman existing at once. Much of the Flashpoint panel along with a separate multiverse one was discussing the mindset of the current creative team working on DC film and TV properties.

In the past, restrictions were placed on projects because they didn’t want multiple versions of the same character existing in case fans got confused. Arrow was told to stop using Deadshot because Will Smith was taking on the role, for instance, and there are some hilarious details around how certain characters were forbidden from appearing on Smallville which meant the writers found creative ways to include them that fit within those restrictions.

The present mindset is that multiple versions of the same character allows for greater storytelling potential and the audience is now trusted to understand that different versions can co-exist without being connected. To me this shows an awareness of what is happening in other properties and a respect for the audience. It also leaves the production teams untethered by what has come before while providing them with a near infinite sandbox to create their own continuity.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that nearly everyone watching the next Spider-Man film is fine with accepting the idea of multiple universes and goes along with the trinity of Spider-Men working together to face down a common threat. There still exists the question of why those types of stories are being told and whether they are just a gimmick. Bringing together different versions of the same character is inherently gimmicky but that isn’t always a bad thing. I find comfort in the knowledge that a reboot doesn’t mean the end of the road for a version of a character I like. Henry Cavill’s Superman doesn’t negate the Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh version of the character. Michael Keaton’s celebrated Batman will be seen again in a few years and might take on new life through a modern lens.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was as much about what unites the different interpretations of the character as it was what makes them different which worked brilliantly as part of the origin for that version of Miles Morales as he settled into being Spider-Man. Most adaptations of a particular character share common ground so having them interact to explore the fundamentals of that character and how they can be tweaked to create a new version of them is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s certainly something the Arrowverse has proven time and time again can make for fascinating storytelling so there’s no reason to not apply variations of this model to other comic book properties.

The upcoming Spider-Man movie runs the risk of following the same thematic beats the animated movie did, and there is always a risk of it becoming a crutch for storytellers to ignore continuity by simply dismissing anything that didn’t work as belonging to a different universe, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks as far as I’m concerned.

After all, who among us hasn’t wondered how things would have turned out if different choices had been made in our own lives? I know I have.