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The Surprising Origins of One of Sci-Fi’s Scariest Supernatural Threats

In the early 2000s, Stargate was the sci-fi franchise to beat. Star Trek was running both Voyager—generally held to be the weakest series in the franchise—and Deep Space Nine, now a critical hit but representing a vast divergence from The Original Series and The Next Generation. Enter Stargate SG-1, a live-action series based on Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s 1994 film Stargate, a tale about an ancient portal allowing for interstellar adventures. SG-1 would go on to run for ten years, accompanied by a line of toys, books, and even Stargate-shaped coasters.

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Robinson Crusoe in the City

Lee Hae-jun’s directorial debut, Castaway on the Moon (2009), is a rare entry into the comedic genre. While the foibles of the human character have been fodder for comedians since man first grappled with thought and language, modern cinematic comedies often shied away from the more risqué material. And for good reason, suicide, depression, and acute social withdrawal are strange bedfellows to comedy. Yet, not only does Lee attempt to tackle these issues, he manages to garner laughs while at the same time making you actually care about the story on screen and the two very damaged people trying to survive.

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The Future is Here, The Future is K-Pop: 9 Muses of Star Empire (2012)

I am not a fan of K-Pop. As a former expat, living and working in South Korea for almost five years, I tried to like the genre, but it all seemed too bubblegum to be taken seriously. The knowledge that everything: the songs, the performances, the very image presented were mere inventions of a committee rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, no matter how much I disliked K-Pop it was impossible to escape its grasp. You couldn’t ride a bus, wait for a subway, go to a department store, or even go out to eat without being inundated by the multitude of products, screens, and speakers peddling some new girl group or well-established boy band.

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A Wonton Western: Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

Beginning his career as an actor for Fifth Generation luminaries Zhang Yimou and Xie Fei, Jiang Wen’s move to the director’s chair would happen in 1994 with In the Heat of the Sun, a nostalgic tale about a group of adolescent males set during the Cultural Revolution. His subsequent directorial projects continued to mine China’s recent past, films full of pathos and irony, that were willing to not merely propagate state sponsored propaganda but attacking preconceived prejudices. And as a testament to Jiang’s skills behind the camera, critics and audiences alike have rightly lauded each film for their visual inventiveness and narrative sensibilities.

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Epilogue of a Lonely Man: Light Sleeper (1992)

“You start to see the connections between what they call luck and what we call grace. You start to see what they’re struggling for is some kind of divine magic that will protect them. That’s not different from a kind of spiritual longing.”

Part of Paul Schrader’s “man in a room” trilogy, Light Sleeper (1992) tracks the wanderings and goings-on of insomniac John LeTour, played by Willem Dafoe. The film, more of a tone poem, revels in nostalgia, from the melancholic soundtrack to the shots of a dirty decrepit New York. The film tracks LeTour as he delivers drugs to young white yuppies, but unlike other dramas dealing with drugs and the trajectory of street level dealers during the 1990s there is nothing celebratory or manic about the story’s presentation. LeTour, like many of Paul Schrader’s characters is Bressonian in psychology, alienated, isolated, and in spiritual conflict with himself.

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No Matter Where You Go, Everyone’s Connected…Serial Experiments Lain (1998)

Made during the sci-fi anime renaissance, Serial Experiments Lain (1998) is a hodgepodge of 90’s tropes that, even 20 years later, is still relevant.  The first of Yoshitoshi ABe’s cyberpunk projects and directed by Ryūtarō Nakamura, the series revolves around Lain Iwakura, a typical middle school girl living in suburbia. Representative of most 90’s thrillers and sci-fi dystopias, Lain slowly starts to become undone as a shadow organization working for something called the “Wired”, a Matrix-esque version of the internet, that is slowly bleeding into the real world.

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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Haibane Renmei (2002)

Beginning life as a short-lived dōjinshi before being adapted into an anime, Haibane Renmei (2002) is a story about loss, pain, and redemption couched in Christian symbolism and a complex mythology. Set in the walled off town of Glie, the world is populated by humans who live in the town proper, the Haibane, angel-like humans with wings and a halo, and from outside the walls, the Toga, a group of mute traders who is the only group that can move in and out of the town freely. For bookworms the show is replete with references to the work of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. From the concept of a walled off city, animals as guides towards epiphany or transformation, the site of a well being an important setting, and the magical realist aesthetic all make Haibane Renmei a cousin to Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

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Birth of the Cool: An Appreciation for the Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville

With the birth of the gangster genre during the early part of the twentieth century, the figure of the gangster protagonist has suffered the same fate in countless pictures, good and bad: to die an ignominious death or be locked up forever removed from society’s purview, yet even though the template for the gangster genre hasn’t changed since the time of Griffith. The genre’s adoption and re-appropriation by filmmakers from all over the world has led to several unique strains of the gangster archetype. Whereas the American gangster follows a rise-and-fall narrative, usually employing an immigrant or minority protagonist, the Japanese yakuza is torn between the contradictory values of duty and personal loyalty, while the Gallic version of the gangster archetype was a blend of American genre tropes and existentialist angst. Our French cousins injected Camus and Sartre into characters that wouldn’t be too far off from the early Warner Bros. gangster pictures of the 1930’s. And while there have been many contributors to the Gallic strain of crime pictures the most important of these is French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville. A man that not only dabbled in making gangster pictures he invented the image of the hip, cool, laconic gangster. An image appropriated by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, John Woo, Wong Kar-Wai, Johnnie To, and Jim Jarmusch.

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Petty Villainy : Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

When one thinks of Indian cinema, one’s thoughts may conjure images of Bollywood dance sequences or deep introspective art films by the likes of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. This perception is highly reductive — the country is replete with profitable and popular regional film industries: Bollywood, Bengali cinema, the Tamil film industry (Kollywood), Punjab films (Pollywood), the Malayalam movie industry, etc., etc.  Of course, Bollywood is still king, yet by the early 2000’s as technology made cameras ever smaller a renaissance in the indie film scene began.

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Of Gods and Despots: An Analysis of Stargate’s Goa’uld

Back in the 1990’s, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were a very successful writing/directing team. Though their output then, beginning in 1992 with Universal Soldier, has been criticized for being schlocky, heavily reliant on special effects, and ridden with clichés, one project they did still continues to inspire such fervent admiration, Stargate (1994). A box office success in spite of the lukewarm reception by critics, and responsible for spawning several TV shows and a couple of TV movies, the franchise is pure sci-fi pulp: a mix of Star Trek idealism, Flash Gordon-esque villains, and a healthy smattering of pseudoarcheaology. Reduced to its most basic premise the story is about a round metallic structure, the eponymously named Stargate, discovered in Egypt in the early 19thcentury and, when turned on by dialing in a set of coordinates, allows beings to travel to distant planets and galaxies.

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Faded Family Portraits: Exploring Father of My Children (2009)

Depression, famously defined by Sigmund Freud, as “anger turned inwards”, is a tough subject to address for many filmmakers due to the difficulty in portraying such an internal conflict cinematically. Oftentimes, it is played for histrionics. At other occasions, the drama is reduced to pure mawkish tropes. Mia Hansen-Løve, a French filmmaker who has been garnering a lot of praise in cinematic circles for the last ten years, has devoted her entire career to telling low-key psychologically complex tales. For her sophomore feature, Father of My Children (2009), she turns her eye towards telling a family drama.

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Blood and Chaos in Hiroshima: Exploring the Yakuza Papers

Kinji Fukasaku’s acclaimed five part gangster series, known in the West as The Yakuza Papers and in Japan as Battles Without Honor and Humanity, is a brutal cinema-verite style gangster saga. Beginning in the rubble of postwar Japan and ending during a tumultuous time in the country’s history when student protesters acted more like modern day terrorists and capitalist desires made unscrupulous men disgustingly wealthy. The Yakuza Papers frames this chaotic era as a conflict between various groups of thugs, cowards, and rapists fighting at first for scraps of territory, and by the end congealing into a corporate body of garishly dressed businessmen whose veneer of respectability belies their gluttonous hunger for power and wealth.