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254. All About Eve (#134)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Donald Clarke and John Maguire, 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, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve.

Late one evening, after a performance of Aged in Wood, Karen Richards find young Eve Harrington waiting outside the stage door. Taking pity on the young girl, Karen invites Eve backstage to meet her idol, the actor Margo Channing. Even very quickly insinuates herself into Margo’s life and it becomes clear that the young woman has ambitions that extend beyond mere fandom.

At time of recording, it was ranked 134th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“We Will Change You, Doctor Jones”: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and a Unified Theory of Indiana Jones…

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a movie with very real and very tangible problems.

Part of the problem is one of simple aesthetics. The original trilogy were products of a very particular moment in the history of American cinema, spanning the eighties. Raiders of the Lost Ark was very much a rollercoaster of a movie, a showcase for practical effects and impressive stunt work. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was built around impressive physical sets, model work and location work. Even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade took a great deal of pride in how tactile this world felt.

Crystal clear.

In contrast, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a product of a transitional decade for Hollywood. It is no coincidence that the film opened in the same summer as blockbusters like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, which heralded a new future for crowdpleasing spectacle. While The Dark Knight made a conscious effort to ground its storytelling in practical effects, Iron Man signaled that the digital effects revolution was going to be the cornerstone of the superhero genre.

As such, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like a deliberate and conscious step into the uncanny valley. Many of the movie’s most decried action sequences are driven by green screen and computer-generated special effects, standing in start contrast to the weight and mass that defined the earlier set pieces. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable. The chase sequence in the Amazon is perhaps the most egregious example, but this detachment from reality is obvious from the early scenes inside the warehouse, as pixels guide our hero and his captors to their destination.

Blowing the roof off.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull exists in another uncanny space, most obviously through the introduction of the character of Mutt Williams. Part of this problem is undoubtedly Shia LeBeouf himself, who has been candid about his work on the film to the point of alienating director Steven Spielberg. Much like it’s easier to recognise the “pre-sequel” of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a prequel with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easier now to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a rough draft of a “legacyquel”, like Creed or Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

Of course, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is too clumsy to really work in that way. The film’s closing moments dare to tease the idea of Mutt Williams succeeding Indiana Jones, the wind blowing Jones’ iconic hat into Williams’ clutches. However, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull lacks the courage of its commitment. Jones snatches the hat away at the last minute, prefiguring the way in which Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker would retreat from the idea of passing Star Wars to a new generation.

It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

There are other ways in which Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like it is caught between two eras. The film’s structure arguably suffers from the production team’s famed attempts to preserve the secrecy of the plot, which even extended to a sting operation and a high-profile lawsuit. The publicity around the film reportedly considered keeping Karen Allen’s return a secret, and the film’s structure conceals the presence of Marion Ravenwood for an hour. It’s a choice that muddies the film’s handling of its themes, denying it the clarity of how Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade handled Henry Jones.

Still, accepting these issues as problems, there is a lot of interesting stuff happening beneath the surface of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In particular, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like a very sincere and genuine effort on the part of everybody involved to figure out some grand unified theory of Indiana Jones, separated from the original three films by decades. What does it mean to look back on the trilogy? How has the world changed? How would the character wrap it all up?

It was admittedly a bit of a wash…

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New Escapist Column! On Why the Mandarin from “Iron Man 3” Remains One of the Best Marvel Villains…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings next week, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at Iron Man 3, and that movie’s attempt to update the Mandarin for the twenty-first century.

Long treated as Tony Stark’s arch-nemesis, the Mandarin is a complicated character with a very troubled history. The character is built around yellow peril stereotypes, and is easily recognisable as a classic Fu Manchu archetype. Part of what made Iron Man 3 so compelling and so interesting was the way in which the film wasn’t just built around the Mandarin as a character, but instead explored and interrogated the concept. It was a film about how pop culture, film and television, creates images of foreign enemies in service of the politic demands of the moment. Iron Man 3 explores that idea brilliantly.

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

New Escapist Column! On How “Mission: Impossible” Would Cause Fan Outrage Today…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With Brian dePalma’s Mission: Impossible turning twenty-five years old this month, it seemed as good a time as any to take a look back the film that started the modern iteration of the franchise.

In hindsight, it is impossible to imagine Mission: Impossible getting made today. The movie’s big twist is the revelation that the one character carried over from the television show, a standard bearer for the larger franchise, has secretly betrayed everything that the audience took for granted. The twist was controversial at the time, with several members of the original cast and some fans objecting to the characterisation. However, in a franchise-driven age where any deviation from the template is a source of outrage, it’s impossible to imagine Mission: Impossible attempting anything so bold today.

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

221. Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a weekly journey through the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. And sometimes, because we can, a movie not on the list.

This week, to mark the passing Christopher Plummer, a special midweek bonus episode covering Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

An explosion on the Klingon moon of Praxis sends the Klingon Empire into disarray, and forces the warrior race to consider an unlikely alliance with their old enemies in the Federation. The Enterprise is sent to meet the Klingon Chancellor, under the command of Captain James Tiberius Kirk. However, things do not go to plan.

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

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New Escapist Video! On “GoldenEye” and an Unchanged Bond in a Changed World…

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.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of GoldenEye, we took a look back at the first James Bond film of the nineties, which introduced the suave secret agent to a whole new generation. Indeed, the genius of the film lay in its understanding of Bond. It presented a version of Bond that had no changed, even as the world around him had.

New Escapist Column! On the Perpetual Apocalypse of “Atomic Blonde”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Since it’s three years old, and there are rumours of a sequel coming, I thought it was worth taking a look at Atomic Blonde.

Released in July 2017 and set in November 1989, there’s a pervasive sense of apocalypse to Atomic Blonde. Set against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall and released in the early months of the Trump Presidency, Atomic Blonde captures the sense of a world collapsing into madness. The deliberately jumbled spy thriller unfolds as the ordering principles of the Cold War collapse around it. There’s a grim, suffocating, brutal nihilism to Atomic Blonde, one underscored in the film’s central fear: what if the apocalypse itself never actually ends? what if it’s eternal?

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

 

Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards, 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Snow! Christmas! Terrible but enjoyable (and apparently, this year, controversial!) music! End of year “best of” lists!

I’m a member of a couple of critics’ organisations, so we’ll be releasing a couple of these lists upon which I voted. I’ll also hopefully be releasing my own top ten as part of a Scannain end-of-year podcast some time this week.

In the meantime, the Dublin Film Critics Circle have released their end of year awards. Thrilled to be a part of the group, who are voting on films released in Ireland during the calendar year of 2018. As such, it will be a different pool of films than the Online Film Critics Society awards.

A massive thanks to the wonderful Tara Brady for organising the awards this year, balloting members and collating results.

Anyway, without further ado…

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Non-Review Review: Creed II

Creed II is a much better sequel than Rocky IV deserves.

At the heart of Creed II is the grudge match that fans of the franchise had been anticipating since the core concept of this “legacy-quel” series was first suggested. Adonis Creed in the ring against Viktor Drago. The son of Apollo Creed squaring off against the son of Ivan Drago, a generational rematch of the bout that cost Apollo Creed his life in Rocky IV. Adonis Creed is haunted by the name that he inherited from a father that he never met, and so it seems only reasonable that his film series would circle back around to allowing him closure on this.

A Rocky Road Less Travelled.

There is an irony in all of this. One of the central themes of Creed was the challenge of this spin-off movie franchise existing in the shadow of the original beloved Rocky series. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler rose to that challenge, and created one of the great franchise success stories of the twenty-first century. As a result, it occasionally feels like Creed II is not so much fighting to escape the shadow of Rocky IV as much as it is wrestling with the weight of Creed.

Creed II is a solid and sturdy sequel to Creed, although not a superior one. It isn’t necessarily the sequel that Creed deserves.

To the Viktor, the spoils…

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Non-Review Review: Mute

Mute is a bold and ambitious mess.

Mute is perhaps most interesting for what it is, and most frustrating in what it is about. In its own way, Mute stands as a triumph of the Netflix model. As it streams, Mute is undoubtedly the film that director Duncan Jones wanted to make. Indeed, it is next to impossible to imagine Mute making its way through the conventional studio system, and certainly not in the form that appeared on Netflix. Even watching the film play out, those never-materialised studio notes suggest themselves. (Most notably, “What is this film saying?”) There is nothing that feels like compromise about the film, and there is something very appealing in that.

However, there is also something deeply frustrating in Mute. The film is undoubtedly the unfiltered creative vision of its director, but there is something overwhelming in that. Mute is beautiful to look at, but almost too much to take in. Its world is vivid and fully formed, its atmosphere rich and evocative. However, there is something awkward in the story that unfolds within this dystopian landscape, the narrative never quite cohering in the same way as its grimy futuristic Cold War Berlin.

Mute is a film that is fascinating and impressive, if far from satisfying.

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