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Who Is Philip K. Dick?

As the sci-fi anthology show Electric Dreams makes its premiere on Stan we look at the man, and the mind, behind the short stories that inspired the show.
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Preacher Season 2

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The first season of Preacher suffered from a few teething problems as the show struggled to tell new viewers what it was and, perhaps more crucially, fans of the source comics what it was not. Those expecting a slavishly faithful reproduction of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s ’90s Vertigo series were sorely disappointed, but what the small screen Preacher got right was the tone of the piece. While narratively the show was spinning its wheels for a long time (about four episodes of S1 are essential viewing, out of a total of 10), we got a good sense of who the characters are and what their world is about. We’re invested in the titular two-fisted Texan preacher, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper); his gun-toting ex-lover, Tulip (Ruth Negga, frequently the MVP here); and his drug-addled Irish vampire best mate, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun). And finally, we’re off to pursue the main thrust of the plot, with the trio on the road across America to (literally) find God, who is absent without leave.

Season two opens with a bang – several bangs, in fact, as a car chase with the local constabulary (complete with a fun sing-along soundtrack – that’s a surprise worth keeping back) turns into the first of a number of stunningly bloody shoot-outs courtesy of the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), the unkillable gunslinger that’s been sicced onto Jesse and co. Gorehounds are in for a treat, as are comics fans – the show’s depiction of the carnage the Saint wreaks is on par with what we saw on the page – which is to say, an utter bloodbath, complete with gaping wounds, severed limbs and a body count equivalent to a bad day at the Somme.

Plotwise, the first two episodes set us up for a trip to New Orleans, as we learn that the errant God is apparently a fan of jazz, prompting our heroes to head for the Big Easy. Before that, we get a couple of side missions. One is enormous fun, involving an Indian casino (East Indian, not Native American, in a cute twist) and a catch-up with the hapless angel Fiore (Tom Brooke). Any plotline that involves an angel and a vampire doing speedballs together in a tacky hotel suite is okay by us.

The other, definitely on the more problematic side of the line, sees Custer and company cross paths with a backwoods “biblical scholar” with a penchant for keeping “strayed” parishioners in a cage. That the show never condemns this (and Jesse de facto condones it, even though Tulip is aghast) hits a bit of a weird note, and that is starting to be a recurring issue with Preacher – successfully pushing buttons for fun and profit takes a defter hand than the series has yet really demonstrated, and what was acceptable in the comics’ ’90s heyday does not necessarily fly in 2017.

That’s a quibble, though – so far Preacher Season 2 is an anarchic blast of violent fun, weird metaphysics and general gonzo goofiness. If they can maintain the pitch for the next eight episodes, we’re in for a fun ride.

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A Fighting Season

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Cinematographer Oden Roberts makes his directorial debut with this low key but closely observed drama which puts the focus firmly on the business side of the military-industrial complex.

It is 2007 and America is ramping up its involvement in Iraq, necessitating more feet to fill the boots that will soon be on the ground. Our field of play here is an Army recruiting office, where two very different soldiers are tasked with convincing largely young, impoverished, and uneducated people to find out if they can be all they can be. Sergeant Harris (Lew Temple) is a veteran of the recruiting office, a cynic who knows how to work the recruiting system to maximise his results. Sergeant Mason (Clayne Crawford) has recently returned from combat deployment and has first hand knowledge at what these young people are getting sent into. Conflict is, of course, inevitable.

Has there ever been a film that looks at the coalface of marketing the military before? Our characters’ remit here is to sell the idea of a life in the Army to a never-ending parade of young hopefuls, and the techniques they use will be familiar to anyone who has put in time in a commission-based sales role – or, indeed, seen Glengarry Glen Ross. Of course, the motivating force being applied isn’t the carrot of a fat bonus, but the stick of overseas deployment – something Mason relishes, but Harris, a rear echelon lifer, is mortified by. Thus, to save his comfortable position (and his own skin) Harris uses every trick in the book to hit his recruiting targets, while Mason, himself suffering PTSD, becomes increasingly disgusted with the whole operation.

The film, made on an incredibly low budget, lives in the interplay between the two, and thanks to strong performances, it works a treat. A Fighting Season‘s area of inquiry is the morality of marketing the military, and the dubious snake oil tactics used to entice the vulnerable to sign up for a hitch. It’s a workplace drama, in effect, but never lets you forget the stakes are literally life and death. This is a strong debut and a fascinating look at an under-represented facet of the military machine.

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Twin Peaks

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Spoilers for the first two episodes of Twin Peaks follow. 

It is happening again.

In South Dakota a school principal (Matthew Lillard) is implicated in the brutal murder of the local librarian. He is adamant he didn’t commit the crime, but his fingerprints at the scene say otherwise.

In New York City, a young man has a simple, strange job: make sure an empty glass box kept in a loft space is constantly videoed from several angles.

In the sleepy timber town of Twin Peaks, a phone call from the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) sends Deputy Police Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) on a strange errand into the foreboding woods outside town.

And on the road, in the bars and diners and backwoods of America, an evil man with a familiar face pursues his own terrifying, violent agenda. His fearful underlings call him Coop.

Welcome back to Twin Peaks – a bigger, stranger, more expansive place than it used to be, encompassing not just the titular rural burg, but all of America. David Lynch is done with looking for the darkness behind the white picket fences of suburbia; now he’s pulling back the still-wet skin of the entire US to show us something ugly and fascinating.

At least, that’s how it seems two episodes in. Suffice to say, there’s no telling where this journey will ultimately take us. Even this early in the game, Lynch and his creative partner Mark Frost, are already subverting expectations. This is not the nostalgia tour we might have feared; while a few familiar faces have already cropped up, we’ve also been presented with new mysteries to try and parse, and they’re as oblique and troubling as you might expect.

Having said that, prior knowledge is mandatory. If you’re not down with Twin Peaks‘ indiosyncratic mythology, if the terms “Black Lodge” and “The Man From Another Place” are meaningless to you, if you don’t know who (or what) Bob is, boy are you in for a tough time.

Bob is, of course, a malevolent spirit who killed poor Laura Palmer back in the day while possessing her father (Ray Wise, who gets a moment in TP Redux, because death is no the end in Lynch Land) and has spent the last quarter-century tooling around America doing horrible things in the body of (or possibly as a facsimile of) FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). He’s made some cosmetic changes in that time, too:

Bob is due to return to the extra-dimensional way station that is The Black Lodge, where the spirit of Dale Cooper has been trapped all these 25 years, but he has a plan to dodge that bullet. Cooper, meanwhile, wants to get out of that red-curtained limbo and reclaim his place in the world. And as for how everything else ties together, or even whether it does? No idea.

But the vibe is back, and that’s what counts. What made Twin Peaks exciting back in the day was the ever-present feeling that we were on the edge of understanding some hidden system of the world, that its bizarre symbols and affectations were not random, but imbued with some terrible meaning that studious initiates could somehow translate, if they watched close enough and were tuned in to what Lynch and Frost were broadcasting. That sense is retained, and arguably even amplified, which is far more exciting than any amount of comforting cherry pie and damn fine coffee. We have returned to Twin Peaks at last, and it is a weirder place than ever. Thank god.