From the Vault #8: THE NINTH GATE (1999)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from August 25th, 2014…

The Ninth Gate is a strange one from Roman Polanski, a director who has of course dabbled in the occult landscape he again taps here, arguably to greater success.

Adapted from the Spanish novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, Polanski’s film is quite an elegant, cultured malaise of a story that could almost define the term ‘slow burn’, if it even burns at all. To many undoubtedly it’s subject matter–an unscrupulous book dealer is hired to find a tome that may be able to raise the Devil–would be inherently boring and Polanski’s careful construction of Johnny Depp’s lead character’s journey snooze inducing, yet oddly enough there is just something about the way Polanski shoots this, something about the manner of his narrative and the mysterious, seductive, beguiling characters involved that keeps you entertained – not to mention a sly sense of absurdity lurking underneath which, despite it’s posturing, suggests the director knows how silly the whole endeavour is.

The result is a beguiling occult thriller.

Continue reading “From the Vault #8: THE NINTH GATE (1999)”

Alias (Series Overview + Reviews)

Alias arrived at a fascinating point when it came to television.

The year was 2001 and a lot was changing in the ether around it. JJ Abrams, at this point best known as the writer of Harrison Ford weepie Regarding Henry, Michael Bay blockbuster Armageddon and show-runner of late 90’s teen hit drama Felicity, was nowhere near the producing and directing Hollywood totem he would become. His production house, Bad Robot, had not yet become the nascent Amblin of its generation. And, just nineteen days before the pilot, ‘Truth Be Told’, aired… 9/11 happened.

Abrams’ spy series already had some interesting cache behind it. Alias was a show that emerged on ABC with the intention of riding into the 21st century with a fresh storytelling model. The most successful and important TV shows of the 1990’s had almost all built their success on an episodic, network model of storytelling; 22-26 episode seasons with plenty of stand-alone stories which would serve the show well in syndication. In everything from Quantum Leap through to The X-Files, show-runners moving from the 1980’s into more of a Golden Age of television, in which some of the most key writers in both TV and cinema of the next few decades would emerge, had cleaved to the way it had been done for years.

Not Alias.

It would immediately strive for an aesthetic which would tap into a deep reservoir of retro-futurism, both aesthetically and in terms of production. Abrams and his staff came out of the gate leaning heavily into the kind of serialisation most shows in the 1990’s just didn’t do, bar a few trend-setting exception we’ll return to. The concept was both high and complex – female super-spy Sydney Bristow would find herself learning the covert CIA branch she had been working for, SD-6, was in truth the arm of a worldwide crime syndicate, and would work as a double-agent to bring down the enemy from within. Episodes would end on a cliffhanger every week and fold into each other. A surfeit of character and narrative mysteries would propel Syd’s journey along, not to mention a curious central, underlying occult and arcane mythology which tipped the show away from action-thriller and more toward science-fiction.

Continue reading “Alias (Series Overview + Reviews)”