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255. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (#250)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Aoife Martin, Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

In the early twenty-first century, Senator Ranse Stoddard returns to the dreary town of Shinbone. What was once a frontier outpost has become a modern town, and the locals are surprised to see such an important figure making the journey. Stoddard has come home to attend the funeral of an old friend, but the occasion brings old memories and dark secrets to the surface.

At time of recording, it was ranked 250th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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249. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Indiana Summer 2021 (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Tony Black and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, wrapping up our Indiana Summer, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

In the midst of the Red Scare, veteran archeologist Indiana Jones finds himself embroiled in a Communist plot involving Area 51. The mystery inevitably spirals outwards, the explorer finds himself roped into another adventure that reunites him with his lost love Marion Ravenwood and offers surprising revelations about the adventurer’s family.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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242. Captain America (-#65)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guest Scott Mendelson, The Bottom 100 is a subset of The 250. It is a journey through the worst 100 movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Albert Pyun’s Captain America.

Polio sufferer Steve Rogers is selected for a dangerous experiment that could turn the tide of the Second World War, being reborn as Captain America. When a mission behind enemy lines throws him into conflict with the Italian supervillain the Red Skull, Steve Rogers ends up trapped in the ice. However, he awakens just as his country needs him most.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 65th worst movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Fear Street Part Two – 1978

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 sets itself a more modest goal than Fear Street Part One: 1994.

Part of that is simply the luxury of being the second part of a larger series. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 has appreciably less table-setting to do than Fear Street Part One: 1994, as the earlier film did a lot of the hard work in terms of establishing rules and building a framework for the trilogy’s internal mythology. While Fear Street Part Two: 1978 obviously builds on the foundations established by Fear Street Part One: 1994, it also has the luxury of working within an established template that saves it the bother of having to unload a lot of exposition very quickly while also serving as a self-contained slasher tribute.

Camp Fear.

Part of it is also because Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is referencing a much less ambitious and self-aware set of movies. Fear Street Part One: 1994 was drawing from a pool of self-aware nineties horror movies like Scream, Urban Legends and I Know What You Did Last Summer, movies made by filmmakers who had grown up watching classic slasher movies on video cassettes and wanted to put their own self-aware spin on the genre and its conventions. So Fear Street Part One: 1994 was a self-aware riff on self-aware riffs on the genre. In contrast, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 draws from a purer sort of slasher movie.

These two factors mean that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 feels a lot less busy and cluttered than Fear Street Part One: 1994, if appreciably less ambitious. More than that, with a lot of the mythology building out of the way, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is able to use its own narrative real estate to deepen and develop the core themes of the trilogy, foregrounding its big ideas with a little more finesse than the previous entry. The result is a movie that is perhaps less energised and less dynamic than its predecessor, but also a lot more comfortable and assured in what it is doing.

Sister, sister.

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Non-Review Review: Black Widow

Black Widow was originally supposed to release in May 2020.

This would have marked as something of a “coda” movie to the main saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a belated follow-up tidying away loose ends from Avengers: Endgame in much the same way as Spider-Man: Far From Home. Like a lot of the releases immediately following that massive cultural phenomenon, Black Widow feels like a bit of unfinished business. It is the first solo movie based around the only female founding member of The Avengers, a project that gestated in various forms over decades across multiple production companies.

A vicious cycle.

Of course, Black Widow would always have felt curiously out of step and out of time. Scarlett Johansson wrapped up her tenure as Natasha Romanoff in Endgame, with the superhero sacrificing her life in the quest to defeat Thanos. As a result, Black Widow has to position itself earlier in the timeline. It functions as something of an interquel between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, following the title character as she desperately evades capture by United States Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

Had Black Widow released on time, it still would have felt like a movie that arrived four years too late. After all, despite introducing Natasha Romanoff as early as Iron Man 2, the Marvel Cinematic Universe would not build a solo superhero film around a female character until Captain Marvel. For all the chaos unfolding behind the scenes, the DC Extended Universe managed to beat Marvel Studios to the punch with the release of Wonder Woman in May 2017. It’s interesting to wonder whether the decision to position Black Widow as a direct sequel to a May 2016 release is something of a retroactive grab at that title.

Widow maker.

Even aside from all of this baggage, Black Widow is a frustrating film. It is a movie that feels only a draft or two (or an editting pass or two) away from greatness. The film grapples with big themes and bold character work in interesting ways that occasionally verge on confrontational. After all, Natasha Romanoff has consistently been portrayed as a complicated and ambiguous figure within this world of gods and legends, an international assassin whose moral and bodily autonomy was violated in the most grotesque ways, and who responded to this by trying to reinvent herself as a superhero.

There’s a fascinating story there, and Black Widow intermittently acknowledges as much. However, when the film gets close to hitting on any nerves, it immediately retreats into snarky irony and wry one-liners that rob the story of any real weight and the characters of any real agency. Black Widow is supposed to be a story about a character asserting her own agency in the face of an uncaring machine. Instead, it feels like a film where the machine always wins.

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New Escapist Column! On “Loki” as an American Riff on “Doctor Who”…

I published a new column at The Escapist today. Following the latest episode of Loki, it has become very clear that the show is an interesting American counterpoint to Doctor Who, specifically the version of Doctor Who overseen by showrunner Steven Moffat.

Loki carries over a lot of the imagery of Doctor Who, often with an interesting specificity – the purple world from Mindwarp, the fugitive pulled out of time to face trial for meddling with the timeline from The Mysterious Planet, the exploding moon from Kill the Moon, the former villain encountering different gendered versions of themselves from The Doctor Falls, the notion of “Volcano Day” from The Doctor Dances. It’s interesting to see such a major property drawing so directly from an eccentric British television show.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! On the Paranoid Claustrophobia of “10 Cloverfield Lane”…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, to mark the fifth anniversary of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I took a look back at one of the most underrated paranoid thrillers of the decade, arriving on the crest of a wave that included similar films like Room, Green Room, The Hateful Eight and even Carol. It’s a timely, even prescient, snapshot of a cultural moment – and a very well-made film.

New Escapist Column! On “Raya and the Last Dragon” and the New Cinema of Reconciliation…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given the release of Raya and the Last Dragon last week, it seemed like an appropriate time to discuss an interesting and emerging trend, what I call “the New Cinema of Reconciliation.”

The past five years have been extremely turbulent and difficult for the United States and the wider world, and so there is an understandable yearning for a return to normality, a palpable desire to believe that things could go back to normal and that the damage down to the social fabric could be repaired. This is a major recurring motif in films aimed at younger audiences, from Trolls World Tour through to Wonder Woman 1984. However, Raya and the Last Dragon illustrates how complicated this can be.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Nomadland

Nomadland is essentially two competing and irreconcilable films.

The first, and more successful film, is a character study of its protagonist. Frances McDormand plays Fern, a widow who has embarked on a life on the road following the death of her husband and the destruction of the community in which she lived. Fern is a wanderer, a restless soul who finds herself trapped between the harsh demands of life on the road and the freedom that such a lifestyle affords her. She is a restless soul wandering across the vast open plains of the United States of the America.

Fern From Home.

The second, and irreconcilable, film is a snapshot of a particular class of people that developed in the aftermath of the Great Recession. As jobs were destroyed and houses were repossessed, large numbers of people found themselves dispossessed and force to live an itinerant existence largely dependent upon the gig economy to keep their heads above the ever-rising tide. There is something almost documentarian about this film, drawing as it does from Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book and featuring many actual “nomads” in supporting roles.

Nomadland quite rightly refuses to condescend to the people who have found a way to survive on the margins. However, the decision to focus on a character like Fern robs the movie of a lot of its potential sting and insight. Watching Nomadland, there’s something almost empowering about the way that Fern’s existence plays out, a sense in which Fern is living the way that she always wanted to on some level. This feels rather cynical and calculated in the context of the very real and devastating trauma of the financial crisis and the destruction that it wrought.

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New Escapist Column! On James McAvoy’s Complex and Compelling Charles Xavier…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With New Mutants releasing on streaming this week, effectively drawing the shutters down on Fox’s “X-Men Cinematic Universe”, it seemed an appropriate time to take a look back at one of the franchise’s unsung highlights: its portrayal of Charles Xavier.

Charles Xavier is a challenging character. He was essentially introduced as a plot function, the adult in the room for a teenage superhero team. However, over the years, Xavier has come to embody more. However, he has typically been portrayed as a saint or an icon. As played by James McAvoy, Xavier becomes a much more complex and compelling character, one who raises important questions about the X-Men as a metaphor for minority groups and about the best way of advancing ideas like social change and equality.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.