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197. The Circus – This Just In (#232)

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.

This time, Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus.

Desperately fleeing the authorities, a lovable tramp finds his way into the heart of a local circus. Initially struggling to find a place among the performers, the rogue strikes up a connection with the cruel ring master’s daughter. However, as a dashing tightrope walker vies for her affections, can the tramp strike the perfect balance?

At time of recording, it was ranked 232nd on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Paradoxical Nostalgia of “Star Trek: Lower Decks”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Star Trek: Lower Decks launched last week, the latest entry in the larger Star Trek canon.

Lower Decks is an interesting phenomenon. It is perhaps the most overtly nostalgic Star Trek show of the new era, given how transparently it harks back to Star Trek: The Next Generation in both form and content. However, the show’s aesthetics – an animated series with a modern comedic sensibility – are likely to alienate those fans most obviously yearning for a nostalgic Star Trek hit. At the same time, the show’s reverence for the trappings of Star Trek prevents it from working in the mold of good comedy – even good Star Trek comedy.

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

Non-Review Review: Palm Springs

On the surface, Palm Springs is instantly recognisable as a genre-savvy update of the classic Groundhog Day template for the twenty-first century.

The basic plot finds two young adults – Nyles and Sarah – trapped living the same day over and over and over again. There is no escape from this nightmare, which finds the pair constantly reliving the wedding of Sarah’s sister Tala. As befitting the more modern media-literate approach to these sorts of stories, Palm Springs joins Nyles at a point where he has already been trapped in the loop for an extraordinarily long amount of time. He is already as familiar with the rules and limitations of this sort of narrative as any audience member who watched Groundhog Day on loop.

Making a splash.

This level of self-awareness in a story is potentially dangerous, encouraging ironic detachment. It’s very each for stories about these sorts of genre-savvy protagonists to feel more like plot devices than actual characters, particularly when operating within constructs that audiences only recognise from other films. “It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard of,” Nyles casually explains to Sarah early in the film. Sarah responds, aghast, “That I might have heard of?”

There are certainly moments when Palm Springs feels like it might be just a little too knowing and a little too arch, its own story too consciously framed in terms of familiar narrative devices. Most notably, even though the film is not directly named, one of the big emotional beats in Palm Springs seems to be lifted directly from Jurassic Park. Released the same year as Groundhog Day, it exists within the same nostalgic framework and was just as defining for an entire generation of movie-goers. Moments like that feel just a little bit too heavy-handed.

Some “him” time.

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188. The Truman Show (#177)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Kurt North, 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, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.

Truman Burbank has the perfect life. He has a good job, a loving wife, a charming best friend. He lives an idylised existence, one where he wants for nothing. However, a series of freak occurences jolt Truman out of his blissful world and force him to confront a potentially horrifying reality: what if everything that he knows is just an elaborate lie?

At time of recording, it was ranked 177th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Emma.

Emma. is gorgeous to look at.

Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel is immensely stylised in a way that suits the material. Austen’s Emma has always been a story about characters who exist ensconced in a world without any material wants or desires, without any existential threats or simmering tensions. The story’s stakes derive within the context of the comforts and luxuries in which Emma Woodhouse has lived her life. When the film opens, Emma’s biggest concern is the departure of her beloved governess, who is simply moving a kilometre and a half down the road and will remain part of her social circle.

Indeed, de Wilde even opens with an intertitle quoting the novel’s opening setnence, “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” The film is built around this idea, creating a stylish cocoon for Emma, a world that looks like it might have been entirely constructed from those brightly coloured confections that its characters serve at afternoon tea.

The result is a beautiful and charming film that captures a lot of the low-stakes charm of the source material, offering a richly designed world in which the novel’s romantic comedy trappings might unfold.

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162. The Apartment – Christmas 2019/New Year’s 2020 (#113)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a Christmas (and New Year’s) treat. Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

As the fifties give way to the roaring sixties, C.C. Baxter finds himself slowly climbing the corporate ladder by loaning out his apartment to other executives so they can conduct illicit affairs. However, things quickly become complicated when Baxter finds himself falling for the elevator operator Fran Kubelik.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 113th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Last Christmas

Last Christmas certainly has its heart in the right place.

On paper, there’s a lot to recommend Last Christmas. Paul Feig is one of the most reliable comedic directors working today, and his work on films like Spy and A Simple Favour deserve consideration among the best comedies of the decade. Emilia Clarke is coming off an extended run as one of the two primary stars of genuine cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones, and has proven herself a likable romantic lead even in solid-if-unremarkable projects like Me Before You. Tony Golding has charisma to burn, as demonstrated by his supporting turn in Crazy Rich Asians.

Things are looking up.

Unfortunately, none of this really coheres as well as it should. Given the talent involved, this comedy should go down a festive treat. While it’s hardly a lump of coal, it is decidedly underwhelming. The problem isn’t a lack of surprises. After all, Last Christmas aspires to comfort rather than novelty. The problem is that Last Christmas is built around the assumption that it has the perfect festive surprise waiting for its eager and bright-eyed audience members to unwrap. Unfortunately, it vastly over-estimates how much some wrapping paper and bow can disguise a familiar outline.

Last Christmas feels far too pedestrian and far too predictable for what it is trying to do. There’s a potentially interesting premise here, but Last Christmas never really tries. It gives up the ghost too early.

Elf help.

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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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