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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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116. Green Book – This Just In (#170)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Peter Farrelly’s Green Book.

At time of recording, it was ranked 170th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen is a deeply weird film, and not in a good way.

The basic structure of the film is a feel good narrative of a character coming to terms with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Mark Hogancamp was beaten almost to death by a group of Neo-Nazis outside a bar, for nothing more than mentioning that he liked to wear women’s clothes. Mark has retreated into himself, creating a model village called “Marwen”, an anachronistic Belgian village from the Second World War. The town is home to a toyetic doppelgänger for Mark, the heroic “Hoogie”, who finds the courage to fight Nazis despite his losses.

The toast of the town.

The arc of the film is very obvious from that premise, with a number of other details sprinkled into the script to provide stakes and momentum. Nicol, an attractive redhead dealing with the loss of her son and a stalker ex-boyfriend, moves in across the way and connects with Mark. At the same time, the sentencing of the criminals who attacked Mark is fast approaching, and Mark needs to read his “victim impact statement” in open court. There is also a suggestion that Mark is wrestling with addiction, having to careful ration his painkillers.

All of this is fairly standard prestige picture stuff, providing Mark and the audience with a very clear journey across the film and offering a potentially hopeful conclusion to Mark’s journey. This is all very hokey, but it could work. It is a very earnest narrative, but director Robert Zemeckis is the kind of storyteller who knows how to make those sorts of narratives work. Forrest Gump is a beloved classic for a reason, no matter how clumsy and hokey it might be.

Mark his words…

However, Welcome to Marwen chooses to elaborate upon its stock upbeat triumph-over-adversity template in a number of frankly bizarre ways. Welcome to Marwen flails wildly between genres, pivoting from earnest and overwrought melodrama to absurd fantasy to lazy comedy on a dime. The issue is not that Welcome to Marwen doesn’t cohere as a film, the issue is that many of the individual scenes within the film struggle to find a consistent tone from one minute to another.

Zemeckis is a skilled enough craftsman that the film impresses on a purely technical level; the dolls tilt into the uncanny valley on occasion, but there is every indication that this is intentional. However, on a purely narrative level, Welcome to Marwen feels like it was put together by a twelve-year-old who had only read about how movies work.

Hoogie’s heroes.

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Non-Review Review: Night School

Night School works better than it probably should, while never quite escaping its fundamental flaws.

Night School suffers from a lot of the structural issues that affect modern studio comedies. Most obviously, the film feels over-extended. It’s not just the run time, which clocks in at a muscular one-hundred-and-ten minutes, which is asking a lot for a broad comedy with a very simple premise. It is the individual jokes within the comedy, which are often stretched to breaking point and beyond. Perhaps the most egregious example is an early gag about finding hair in food at a restaurant, which goes on for what feels like five minutes built around the same standard social set-up.

To teach’s own.

There are very few major surprises in Night School. There are a few small and smart ideas buried in the mix, but they often feel crowded out by the broad jokes and the familiar clichés. There’s a recurring sense that Night School doesn’t always play to its strengths, at least below the headline. At the same time, the film understands that it lives or dies by the chemistry between its two leads, offering a conventional persona-driven conflict of manners that places Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish in opposition to one another before inevitably moving them into alignment.

Night School is diverting, if unsatisfying. It manages a passing grade, if little more.

Hart to Hart.

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