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214. Citizen Kane – Christmas 2020 (#97)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Niall Murphy, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Following the death of Charles Foster Kane, reports of the magnate’s final word slip out to the press. Trying to parse a portrait of the public figure’s life and times, a reporter attempts to discern the meaning of the word, “Rosebud.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 97th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How Christopher Nolan Became the Internet’s Villain…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Last week, the cinematic wold was shaken by the announcement that Warner Bros. would be releasing their entire cinematic slate day-and-date on HBO Max. This drew a lot of discussion and debate, but also demonstrating one of the internet’s weird cinematic fault lines: the strong hatred of director Christopher Nolan.

Nolan is one of the most interesting directors working the day. He is the last director who can approach a major studio with an original idea and secure hundreds of millions of dollars to realise it with minimal interference. In his early career, Nolan was a critical and internet darling, with a strong online following. However, since around 2012, Nolan has become a figure of a vocal and persistent derision online, much of which is anchored in the portrayal of the director as an old-fashioned auteur with a distinct sensibility.

This hatred of Nolan – which seems to bubble over in relation to anything from Anne Hathaway sharing chat show anecdotes about working with him to his reasonable critique of Warner Bros. failing to inform any of their directors or collaborators about the move to HBO Max – is interesting because it tied to other cultural trends that overlap. The internet’s passionate dislike of Nolan reflects broader shifts in the embrace of an intellectual-property- and corporate-identity-driven fandom. This hatred of Nolan often feels like a hatred of what he represents as a filmmaker.

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

210. Hugo – Summer of Scorsese, w/ The Movie Palace (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Carl Sweeney, 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, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season with a crossover with The Movie Palace, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, New York, New York, Goodfellas, Kundun, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Hugo Cabret is a twelve-year-old kid living and hiding in the industrial spaces behind a central Paris railway station. Recovering from the loss of his father, Hugo is desperate to repair the damaged automaton that is the last connection that he shares with his deceased parent. The mystery leads Hugo to a strange and lonely old man operating a kiosk, and into a whole new world.

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

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Non-Review Review: Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite

The pandemic has been an interesting time for film critics.

The general dearth of mainstream theatrical releases has allowed critics to essentially pick and choose the films that they cover on streaming. As a general rule, this has led to the elevation of good films, with critics generally picking films out of the mass of streaming service releases that merit coverage and attention – films like Palm Springs or Greyhound. Of course, there have been a couple of stinkers, particularly among children’s fare with mass audience appeal like Artemis Fowl or Scoob!, but by and large critics have been able to avoid true stinkers.

Dogsbody work.

As such, the arrival of Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite! marks something of a return to normality and business as usual. It is the kind of film that critics would have had to see and review as a matter of course in the pre-pandemic era as a major theatrical release, but which might have slipped under the radar had it gone straight to streaming. Watching Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite is a reminder of a time not too long ago when critics were expected to see every major theatrical release, no matter how dark or how soul-destroying that experience might be.

With that in mind, there is something almost reassuring in the awfulness of Cats and Dogs III – Paws Unite!, a movie that few critics would actively seek out if it weren’t for the obligations of their job. In a world that is desperately scrambling for any vague sense of a return to normality, Paws Unite! servers as a welcome reminder when seeing terrible movies was the worst thing with which film critics had to contend.

Keep on trucking.

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192. Hamilton: An American Musical – This Just In (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Deirdre Mulomby, 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.

This time, Thomas Kail’s Hamilton: An American Musical.

Reconstructed from a pair of live theatrical recordings and additional material compiled in June 2016, Hamilton features one of the last performances from the original Broadway cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking smash hit cultural sensation, available on streaming for the first time.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Cynicism of “Inception”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier this week. Because Inception turned ten years old this week, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to look back at Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster.

Inception is often discussed as a movie about movies, how the film’s team of dream infiltrators often feel like a team of filmmakers constructing an elaborate spectacle for an audience of one. However, this train of thought is rarely developed beyond the original premise. If Inception is a movie about movies, what exactly does it have to say about movies? How does it feel about them? The answers are surprisingly complicated and nuanced, especially in the context of a summer blockbuster from a director who clearly adores the format.

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

“They Are Touching Things!” The Aviator, and the Yearning for Human Contact…

I was thrilled to get back invited on The Movie Palace with Carl Sweeney to talk about Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. It’s a film that I hadn’t watched in quite a while, and which had a much stronger impact on me than I expected. You should listen to the whole podcast conversation, but I had some thoughts I wanted to more properly articulate.

Q-U-A-R-A-N-T-I-N-E…

The Aviator is about many things.

Most obviously, it is about famous Hollywood director and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. Hollywood had been trying for decades to bring Hughes’ life to screen. Directors like Christopher Nolan and Warren Beatty had failed to get their Hughes-related projects off the ground. Indeed, The Aviator almost feels like a work-for-hire project from Scorsese, who replaced Michael Mann as the director of this project at the behest of lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Having previously collaborated on Gangs of New York, The Aviator cemented Scorsese and DiCaprio’s partnership.

However, despite his late arrival on the project, The Aviator feels very much like a Martin Scorsese film. After all, the second half of the film is given over to an impassioned creator dragged out into the limelight and forced to justify a spectacular and costly failure while arguing for his exacting creative vision. This aspect of the film would undoubtedly have resonated with Scorsese, who had just come on to the project fresh from the debacle of Gangs of New York, which involving fighting with Harvey Weinstein over the cut of a movie “whose box office returns weren’t overwhelming.”

Still, there’s one aspect of The Aviator that feels much more pointed and resonant in the current context of global lockdowns and self-isolation. In a very fundamental way, The Aviator is a story about the paradox of touch. It is a story of a man who longs for human connection, but whose neuroses make that sort of connection impossible. The Aviator tells the tale of a man who locks himself away from the world, but must eventually find the strength to put himself back in it.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #6!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Ronan Doyle, Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss the week in film news. We have a broad and wide-ranging discussion of what we watched, asking tough questions like whether Flash Gordon really is the horniest movie ever made and ruminating on the visual power of Shrek Retold. There are also discussions of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the thirties thriller Red Dust.

News-wise, awards season continues apace with the race settling down after the BAFTAs and Roma emerging as the frontrunner. Simultaneously, the Oscars continue to be struggle to get their show organised. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Irish Film Institute unveils its plans for 2019 and its evening course in British cinema since the eighties.

The top ten:

  1. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  2. Vice
  3. Mary Queen of Scots
  4. Glass
  5. The Mule
  6. A Dog’s Way Home
  7. Alita: Battle Angel
  8. Green Book
  9. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World
  10. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

New releases:

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

The Great Inception, and the Movies that Made Us…

This week, the podcast I host, The 250, will be marking its one hundredth episode with a look at Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” I’m very much looking forward to it. It’ll be available on Saturday from 6pm UTC. I also have a book coming out on Christopher Nolan, titled “Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films.” This is a much more personal (and much less detailed) discussion of Inception than the one in the book. So, if you like this piece, it might be worth a look.

I’ve always been somewhat wary of Inception.

I mean, Inception is a fantastic movie. There is a reason that it is so beloved and so highly regarded. It is perhaps one of the four core Christopher Nolan films, along with Memento, The Prestige and The Dark Knight. It is the rare big budget blockbuster with no longstanding association to established intellectual property, and one of the few to succeed on that sort of level. Indeed, the only other comparable examples on a similar scale are Interstellar and Dunkirk, both directed by Christopher Nolan.

More than that, Inception has permeated the popular consciousness. It is a film that has become part of the broader conversation. It seems that barely a few months can go by without another hot take on that closing scene, with news coverage of commencement speeches or interviews with actors. More than that, the film itself has become something of a critical and popular shorthand. It is a stock comparison for any movie or television show with a vaguely similar concept. Maniac is the most recent example, even inviting the comparison with an elaborate hallway action scene in its penultimate episode.

And yet, in spite of that, Inception is a movie of which I’ve had a somewhat strained relationship. I still adore it, as I adore most of Nolan’s filmography. I think its reputation is well-earned, and I think it excels by every measure that it sets itself. It delivers on just about every front, showcasing Nolan as a director with incredible command of both the form itself and the audiences watching these films. Inception is a big and broad crowdpleaser that is also a surprisingly intimate and personal film, which works as both a story and as a showcase. It is thrilling, it is engaging, it is compelling.

However, there’s something underneath the surface that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. A large part of this is simply down to the fact that it’s a movie that is fundamentally about movies. This is nothing new of itself. All of Nolan’s movies are about stories, whether personal or cultural. In fact, it could be argued that the central trilogy of Nolan’s work is actually The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception, a trilogy of films that seem to be about the challenges of constructing and maintaining spectacle, arriving at a point in the director’s career where Nolan was transitioning from smaller films to high-profile epics.

Inception is the most transparent of these films, exploring most directly the mechanics of how storytelling works within a cinematic framework. There are even scenes of characters discussing in relatively clinical terms the mechanics of catharsis and how best to emotional manipulate their target audience. Inception feels very much like Nolan is stopping and deconstructing his stopwatch storytelling for the benefit of the audience, revealing how the trick is done and how the pieces fit together. As with everything Nolan does, he does this with a great deal of skill and nuance. However, it can’t help but feel a little cynical.

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New Podcast! The Movie Palace – “Gilda”

It was a pleasure to join the great Carl Sweeney on his podcast The Movie Palace to discuss Gilda, Charles Vidor’s iconic postwar film noir which is possibly the most exciting movie ever made about tungsten monopolies. A psycho-sexual thriller about two men trying to forge a future in Buenos Aires and the woman who comes between them, Gilda remains one of the most enduring films of the late forties in large part due to Rita Hayworth’s central performance.

At the same time, Gilda occupies an interesting place in the film noir canon, never quite considered a classic in the style of Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity, but always respected by those with an appreciation for postwar American cinema. It’s certainly a film about which I have very mixed feelings, even if they aren’t quite as intense as those between Johnny and Gilda.

The Movie Palace is a podcast that takes an affectionate look at the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Carl talking about a classic film with a guest once a week. It was an honour to be asked on, even if I’ll concede out of the gate that I’m not anywhere near as familiar with the era of filmmaking as Carl is.  You can check out the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, or just click the link below.