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95. Into the Wild (#180)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jack Hodges, 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, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild.

Christopher McCandless abandoned a comfortable middle-class life in pursuit of something greater. His search would take him across the United States, impacting the lives of those he met along the way. His search would eventually lead him into the Alaskan wilderness.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 180th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Form a Square For That Purpose: Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and the Illusion of Civility

In some respects, Barry Lyndon is seen as an outlier in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography.

The film is a lush and extended period drama, adapted from a nineteenth century novel set in the eighteenth century. It arrives in the middle of an acclaimed run of films from director Stanley Kubrick: Doctor Strangelove; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. By all appearances, Barry Lyndon stands apart from these films. “Period piece” is obviously a film genre unto itself, but it is not as heightened as the bigger and bolder films around it.

Arresting imagery.

Barry Lyndon is arguably Kubrick’s only “period film” outside of Spartacus, which the director famously disowned and is arguably seen as a film more overtly influenced by its leading man than its director. Of course, some of Kubrick’s films move backwards and forwards in time; Full Metal Jacket takes place in the late sixties, while the prologue to 2001: A Space Odyssey is set at “the dawn of man.” Nevertheless, for many casual film fans approaching Barry Lyndon, the film’s period trapping stands out from the surrounding films, which are largely set near the present and into the future.

Indeed, it could be argued that this difficulty that casual observers have in positioning Barry Lyndon within the Kubrickian canon accounts for some of the controversy around the film’s place in the director’s larger filmography. Upon release, the film was largely met with confusion and disinterest, critics often struggling with what to make of the finished product. For his part, Kubrick dismissed the idea of critics forming a consensus on a film like Barry Lyndon after just one viewing.

Initial audiences weren’t enamored with the film.

Of course, this is arguably par for the course with Kubrick films, particularly those towards the end of his career. Many Kubrick films opened to a divided critical opinion before slowly solidifying their popular reputations over time; 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining. However, Barry Lyndon seems to be a special case. Debate was still raging over the critical merits of the film after Kubrick’s death, even in letter columns of newspapers like The New York Times. Even the release of remastered editions forty years later find proponents arguing the film is undervalued or underrated.

However, watching Barry Lyndon, the film never really feels like an outlier in terms of Kubrick’s filmography. Indeed, in some respects, it feels like a culmination of many of the director’s recurring themes and fascination. Barry Lyndon is perhaps the clearest articulation of some of the key themes within Stanley Kubrick’s larger body of work, in particular through its engagement with the Enlightenment as a window through which he might explore the human concept of “civilisation.”

Drawing to a close.

Repeatedly over the course of his filmography, Kubrick engages with the idea of civilisation and order, the structures that mankind imposes upon the world in order to provide a sense of reason or logic to a chaotic universe. Repeatedly in his movies, Kubrick suggests that “civilisation” is really just a veneer that masks the reality of the human condition, providing a framework for acts of violence and self-destruction that seem hardwired into the human brain. Kubrick suggests that “civilisation” is a fragile construct, and one that occasionally seems hostile to the nature of those who inhabit it.

Unfolding against the rigid social mores of the eighteenth century, Barry Lyndon allows Kubrick to construct the starkest and most literal example of that theme.

Soldiering on.

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The X-Files – Detour (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Detour is a wonderfully traditional little episode in the middle of a somewhat eccentric season.

Although it lacks the off-kilter improvisational madness that drove much of the fourth season, the fifth season of The X-Files is a rather strange beast. With The X-Files: Fight the Future already filmed, the show was somewhat limited in what it could and couldn’t do in the fifth season – preventing the series from doing anything as dramatic as throwing Memento Mori into the middle of the run. Nevertheless, the fifth season features a variety of experimental and off-format episodes. Stephen King and William Gibson contribute scripts while Darren McGavin pops in as a guest star.

The woods are alive...

The woods are alive…

Detour was broadcast between Unusual Suspects and The Post-Modern Prometheus. Unusual Suspects was an episode headlined by the Lone Gunmen, while The Post-Modern Prometheus was broadcast in black-and-white as an homage to James Whale’s feature film adaptation of Frankenstein. As such, Detour feels like a rather conventional and old-fashioned episode, with Mulder and Scully encountering something strange in a rural setting, getting trapped in the wilderness, and encountering a monster threatened by the expansion of civilisation.

The beauty of Detour is that the episode’s decidedly traditional aesthetic feels out of place and almost novel amid all the off-format episodes surrounding it. Detour represents something of a literal detour – away from the more eccentric episodes of the season and towards something more familiar and safe. This allows Detour to have the best of both worlds – it feels at once traditional and quintessential, but also distinct from everything happening around it. Detour is a refreshingly old-fashioned episode of The X-Files, a reminder of just how much fun the show could have in its comfort zone.

Back to nature...

Back to basics…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Civilisation (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

After Breaking the Ice hinted at what Star Trek: Enterprise might become, Civilisation is an episode that nudges the show right back into its comfort zone. It’s an episode of Star Trek that feels like it could have been produced for Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager, with only a minimum amount of change to the script. However, what is strangest about Civilisation is the way that it feels like a rather direct throwback to the very classic Star Trek show, serving as a tale about our hot-blooded captain fighting evil imperialist adversaries and seducing sexy alien space babes.

Of course, there’s a sense that this sense of regression is exactly what the show is aspiring towards. After all, Archer was advertised as “Captain Kirk’s childhood hero”, and it makes sense for the show to play with the classic Star Trek tropes that are regarded so affectionately by popular culture. Unfortunately, Civilisation lacks the spark and wit necessary to make such a pulpy homage work, instead feeling too much like a dull retread.

David Ickes was right!

David Icke was right!

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My 12 for ’14: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The world has always seemed like it was on the cusp of something – like there was a powder keg ready to errupt. The infamous “doomsday clock” has never been further than seventeen minutes from midnight, and – outside of that brief moment of post-Cold War euphoria – mankind has always been living within a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of existence as we know it. Nuclear weapons. Global warming. Biological warfare. Economic collapse. All possible world-enders.

The new millennium has been dominated by the threats of terrorism and of global warming, unconventional opponents that can difficult to engage. However, 2014 brought its own particular brand of uncertainties and discomforts. In February, a revolution in the Ukraine sparked a political crisis in Europe, pushing Russia to loggerheads with Europe and the United States. Since August, Ferguson has been simmering away, the imagery of the protests burnt into the collective unconscious. The Syrian Civil War has faded from the front pages.

dawnoftheplanetoftheapes11

The word “revolution” seemed to simmer away in the background, with certain young activists actively travelling to Ferguson in search of their own revolution. Writing in Time magazine, Darlena Cunha compared the trouble in Ferguson to the civil unrest which gave rise to the American Revolution. Demonstrating no shortage of self-importance, actor and comedian Russell Brand published his own manifesto – helpfully titled Revolution – in whish he pledged to lead a global revolution.

“The revolution can not be boring,” Brand advised readers. They seldom are. Revolutions are typically bloody, brutal, violent, horrific. There is a reason that wars of independence tend to be followed by civil wars and internal strife. Although the idea of revolution holds a romantic allure, history demonstrates that revolutions seldom help those most in need of assistance. “Meet the new boss,” the Who teased on Won’t Get Fooled Again, “same as the old boss.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a harrowing and compelling exploration of revolutionary bloodshed.

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