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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.

Non-Review Review: Filmworker

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

What must it be like to surrender a life in service of somebody else pursuing their dreams? It is a challenging and provocative question; very few people are willing to risk everything to chase their own dreams, so what level of devotion must be required to do that in service of somebody else’s aspirations?

This is the central question of Filmworker, the documentary charting the life and times of Leon Vitali, who essentially surrendered his life to director Stanley Kubrick, to help the director fulfill his creative vision and realise his dreams on celluloid. The opening voiceover, lifted from Matthew Modine’s diaries working on Full Metal Jacket, likens Leon Vitali to a moth drawn to Stanley Kubrick’s flame. It’s an apt metaphor, one that plays through Filmworker.

For years, Leon Vitali was Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man, the film offering varying labels; some call him an “assistant”, others a “factotum”, while Leon’s own official classification of his job for paperwork and applications was “filmworker.” Whatever title might have been applied to Leon, the man did everything did everything. The jack-of-all-trades coached actors, he oversaw casting, he restored negatives, he documented decisions, he engaged with distribution. He was essential to the operating of Kubrick’s creative machine, yet he remains mostly anonymous.

Filmworker engages with this relationship, with the sacrificing of an individual’s autonomy to enable another’s creative vision. The film is refreshing frank in some respects about the demands of such a life, of the temperamental impositions made by such artists of these devotees. The film captures the romance of working with genius, but also the toll that it exacts.

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Non-Review Review: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a tough film to classify.

Visually and narratively, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts feels very much like a western. Writer and director Mouly Surya crafts a story that is recognisable as a classic western tale. The eponymous lead character lies alone in a remote part of Sumba, managing a farm following the death of her husband. When bandits arrive to raid the property, Marlina finds herself forced to embark on a journey across the region in search of justice – or maybe just even peace. Along the way, there is violence, retribution and reconciliation.

Director Mouly Surya and cinematographer Yunus Pasolang tell the story using the visual language of the western. The film features any number of striking and beautiful compositions, the camera taking in the sparse beauty of the Indonesian countryside in rich browns and yellows, the deep blue of the ocean occasionally visible in the distance or the background. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts even includes sequences of its protagonist riding on horseback, hoping to deliver a bounty to the forces of justice in a seemingly lawless land.

However, these trappings serve to provide a framework for a much more compelling and fascinating character study. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a quiet and introspective film, one that finds a strange warmth in the quiet resolve of its central character.

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Jameson Cult Film Club: Lethal Weapon

Watching a film with an audience really into it is a joyous experience.

For all that cinema is a social activity that takes place in a dark room with everybody staring in the same direction, there is a lot to be said about the communal nature of the activity. Bringing together a theatre full of people to celebrate a classic film is always a worthwhile activity. A lot of the films chosen by the Jameson Cult Film Club are familiar to audience members, but there is something to be said about actually experiencing a movie like Lethal Weapon with a room full of like-minded people.

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Trigger Street Productions and Adrien Brody Launch the Fourth Year of Jameson First Shot Film Competition

The Jameson First Shot film competition is back for a fourth year. In partnership with Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti of Trigger Street Productions, Jameson is on the hunt for the globe’s most gifted, undiscovered filmmakers with compelling stories to tell. Three talented winners will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have their scripts turned into short films and to direct Adrien Brody in the lead role. Not bad for a First Shot. The winning shorts will be premiered in LA with the acclaimed team in attendance.

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