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146. Baby Geniuses – Summer of ’99 (-#23)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Luke Dunne, 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 ’99 season, Bob Clark’s Baby Geniuses.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation. It was also home to some of the very worst: Wild Wild West, Jakob the Liar, Bicentennial Man. However, one bad movie towers about all the others. The Summer of ’99 season would not be complete without folding in the only film from that year to make the IMDb‘s storied Bottom 100 list.

Underneath a skyscraper in Los Angeles, there is nestled a terrible secret. A sinister laboratory is running grotesque experiments on children, hoping to crack open the key to universal knowledge. Only one person can stop them. One of these so-called “baby geniuses”, the self-described “Sly Man”, embarks on a rip-roaring race against time to stop the sinister machinations of his evil great aunt.

At time of recording, it was ranked 23rd on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the worst movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Extra Ordinary

Extra Ordinary is very Irish ghost story.

“Irishness” is a very nebulous quantity. It can be very hard to precisely quantify. In humour, it tends towards a blend of irony and irreverence, often a surreal juxtaposition of the mundane with the surreal. As such, Extra Ordinary feels like a very Irish ghost story. It is a film anchored in the tropes and conventions of ghost stories – possessions, exorcisms, hauntings, satanic pacts – but which contextualises these things as just another minor frustration of country living. As the title implies, Extra Ordinary exists at the junction of the familiar and the uncanny. If the team produce a sequel, they should call it “Super Natural.”

Driving curiosity.

Extra Ordinary adopts a uniquely Irish approach to its premise, wondering what happens to those ghosts that are a bit less dramatic and lot more mundane than the usual spirits. There’s something engagingly quirky in Extra Ordinary’s depiction of the eccentricity of country living, and how so much of that eccentricity just goes on as a fact of life; the dancing lead attached to a discarded toaster, the tree branch that sways without even a breeze, the wheelie bin that just keeps flapping through the night. This is just the way that things are in this part of the world, and the locals have (mostly) made their peace with it.

Despite its supernatural premise, the most endearing aspect of Extra Ordinary is how perfectly it captures the smaller and more intimate eccentricities of the Irish countryside.

Now I seance you…

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144. La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) – Summer of ’99 (#26)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Ethan Shattock and Gerard Rooney from Disconnected Talk, 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 ’99 season, Roberto Benigni’s La Vita è Bella.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, 10 Things I Hate About You, Fight Club. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

In mid-century Italy, lovable fool Guido embarks on a courtship of the beautiful Dora, a woman far outside of his station. As Italy descends into fascism, Guido hopes that his optimism will allow himself – and his family – to endure in the face of unimaginable evil.

At time of recording, it was ranked 26th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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135. Holmes and Watson – This Just In (-#100)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn 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, Etan Cohen’s Holmes and Watson.

In turn-of-the-century London, the fiend James Moriarty prepares to face trial. His conviction rests upon the testimony of heroic detective Sherlock Holmes. However, Holmes makes a startling deduction about the identity of the man in the dock, which sets in motion a whirlwind comedic misadventure.

At time of recording, it was ranked 100th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the worst movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Always Be My Maybe

Perhaps Always Be My Maybe is a more accurate reminder of the romantic comedy.

Much digital ink has been spilled on the state of the romantic comedy as a genre, particularly in the context of the streaming wars. Many critics and observers have lamented the death of the mid-budget movie at the American box office, citing the romantic comedy as one of the genres most obviously affected. However, there were a number of hopeful signs of life in the genre in recent years. Netflix has been consciously investing in these sorts of films, with internet favourites like Set It Up or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. (Tellingly, Netflix became the international home for Isn’t It Romantic?)

The script could use a punch-up.

However, the genre also performed robustly in cinemas with Crazy Rich Asians becoming a breakout success story for Warner Brothers and sparking a lot of excitement and interest around the genre. In fact, even Late Night looks like it might do something similar for the related “woman at work” subgenre; although its box office success seems much less assured, critical response is very positive. As a result, it seems like reports of the death of the romantic comedy and similar works have been greatly exaggerated. There is life in that old genre yet, whether theatrically or streaming.

The arrival of Always Be My Maybe underscores at least one factor in the success of breakout hits like Crazy Rich AsiansSet It Up or Late Night. A lot of the modern attention on the romantic comedy genre is focused on exceptional examples of the genre; films within the genre that are very, very good. In contrast, Always Be My Maybe feels like something of a grim corrective. It is perhaps more representative of the romantic comedy genre as it tended to be, rather than evoking the popular memory of it. This is to say that Always Be My Maybe is occasionally charming, largely derivative, and generally quite bland.

I left my heart in San Francisco.

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Non-Review Review: Wine Country

Wine Country should be a slam dunk.

The appeal Wine Country lies in its central cast. Wine Country assembles an impressive selection of older female comedians and drops them into a fairly standard premise that should allow them room to bounce off one another and enjoy themselves. It is a tried and true comic formula, the unleashing of a set of comedic personas on a familiar plot, the sole purpose of that stock set-up being to avoid getting in the way of the chemistry and charm of the cast. Wine Country has quite the cast; Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey, along with supporting turns from Tina Fey and Cherry Jones. That should be enough to get any comedy half way home.

Toast of the town.

The actual plot of Wine Country is fairly simple as such things go, but this is a canny move. Wine Country is designed as a cast showcase, and so the plot’s primary function is to serve as justification for bringing (and keeping) these characters together so that the film can bounce from one scene to the next. Wine Country is the story of a group of friends who come together to celebrate a fiftieth birthday, traversing the eponymous region while each dealing with their own personal and professional crises. Character traits are arbitrary, and their arcs simplistic; in many cases, it seems like the characters were developed through nothing more than vague word association, a collection of generic adjectives (“busy”“immature”“obsessive”) thrown into a hat and selected at random.

While this does hold Wine Country back, it isn’t the biggest issue with the film. Quite simply, Wine Country is put together in a frustratingly clumsy and haphazard manner, looking a feeling like a cloying made-for-television movie that somehow stumbled upon a phenomenal cast. The film looks flat and over-lit, even allowing for the sunny Californian setting. Many of the jokes feel lazy and obvious, grabbing the lowest hanging fruit; perhaps appropriate given how much time the film spends in vineyards. The soundtrack is awful and on the nose, slowly and loudly suffocating any genuine emotion the film might attempt to evoke. There’s no doubt that the cast and crew making Wine Country had a great time making the film, but none of that carries over to the finished product.

‘Til the (fri)end of time.

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Non-Review Review: Isn’t It Romantic?

Isn’t It Romantic? is a movie that seriously misjudges its own premise.

At the heart of Isn’t It Romantic? is a fairly solid observation. The conventional romantic comedy has seen better days. The genre enjoyed a boom in the nineties, largely driven by the star power and charisma of actors like Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. It is no surprise that Isn’t It Romantic? opens with the familiar chords of Roy Orbinson’s Pretty Woman and then cuts to a childhood memory of the lead character watching Pretty Woman. In recent years, the genre has gradually been squeezed out of cinemas. It is no longer the cultural force that it once was, with a handful of notable exceptions. Isn’t It Romantic? positions itself as part of a larger discussion about the state of the genre.

He will, in fact, take you to the candy shop.

However, Isn’t It Romantic? approaches this issue in a very strange way. Typically, genres that have been marginalised or pushed to the fringes respond with a level of introspection and analysis; think of Unforgiven with westerns or even Cabin in the Woods with schlocky teen horrors. The idea is that the genre can take itself apart and put itself back together. On the surface, Isn’t It Romantic? seems to be positioning itself as this sort of movie. Indeed, a significant portion of the movie’s stretch of set-up is given over to an extended sequence of the lead character working through the tropes and rhythms of, and the problems with, the romantic comedy genre in almost excruciating detail. Isn’t It Romantic? seems to position itself as an autopsy.

However, it very quickly becomes clear that beyond pointing out these tropes, Isn’t It Romantic? has very little interesting to actually say about them. If the film genuinely believes that the genre is dead, then Isn’t It Romantic? opens as a public autopsy before morphing into a strange act of cinematic necrophilia.

The best laid plans.

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