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Non-Review Review: Misbehaviour

Misbehaviour is a charming an engaging film that suffers slightly from the lack of a clear focal point.

Philippa Lowthorpe’s historical drama-comedy is set against the backdrop of the 1970 Miss World pageant in London. The event became something of a point of convergence in the cultural wars spilling over from the end of the sixties, a target for the anarchist fringe, the anti-apartheid campaign, and for the nascent women’s liberation movement. At the same time, a quieter revolution was taking place within the event itself. Grenada had sent its first contestant to take part, while South Africa sent a black woman to represent them for the first time.

Misbehaviour features an incredibly stacked cast and diverse array of perspectives, looking at the central event through a variety of radically different prisms. There’s a sense that Misbehaviour wants to offer a genuinely intersectional perspective on the events of that explosive contest, the film’s form resembling its core themes. It helps that Lowthorpe has assembled an increidbly charming cast, and that spending time with just about any member of the ensemble is a worthwhile endeavour of itself.

At the same time, though, the film struggles to balance its large ensemble. There are occasionally too many plates spinning, and too much space between them. By the time that the film has checked in on all the major characters and circled back around, dramatic momentum has been lost and the film has to spend a minute or two regaining its footing. As a result, Misbehaviour never works as well as it might, feeling a little too clumsy and broad. Still, there’s a lot to like about it.

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Non-Review Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is an immensely charming and high-energy romp, that is as unfocused as its central character and suffers more than a little bit from a non-linear narrative style that it never really justifies or employs effectively.

There is a lot to love in Birds of Prey, but perhaps the most charming aspect of it is the intimacy. Birds of Prey is bereft of the sort of city-, planet- or galactic-sized stakes that have come to define so much of modern superhero cinema, from Thor: The Dark World to Man of Steel to Avengers: Endgame. The bulk of Birds of Prey consists of a wrestling match over a diamond that happens to contain bank account details that point to an even larger payday. Its climax is on the scale of an eighties or nineties action movie, which means it involves anonymous henchmen rather than a literal army.

A cutting retort?

This consciously low-stakes approach allows Birds of Prey to simply enjoy itself, to revel in the charm of the cast and the relatively straightforward journeys of the central characters. Warner Brothers have been pushing their DC properties away from the MCU-emulating shared universe model that led to the spectacular disaster of Justice League, instead focusing on affording creators the freedom to do what they want to do. Joker rejected the modern superhero template to offer a throwback to films like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. In contrast, Birds of Prey seems to hark back to The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Birds of Prey is perhaps a little too messy and unfocused in terms of narrative, which affects the movie’s pacing and rhythm. However, it also trusts its cast and its energy to carry it a long way, working best when it feels confident enough to play as a live action Looney Tunes cartoon.

Girl gang.

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159. Gone With the Wind – Winter of ’39 (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and 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. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Victor Fleming, George Cukor and Sam Wood’s Gone With the Wind.

A tale of revolution, romance and redemption set against the backdrop of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind remains one of the most sweeping epics ever produced by the studio system. The decades-long love affair between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler unfolds against the backdrop of the fall and rise of Scarlett’s family fortune.

At time of recording, it was ranked 165th on the list of the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Charlie’s Angels is a fascinating tonal mess. It doesn’t work at all, but the ways in which it doesn’t work are fascinating.

Charlie’s Angels feels like something of a hybrid. It combines several different styles of blockbuster into a single film. It pitches itself as a campy and goofy stupid 1990s blockbuster, but inflected with a veneer of 2000s self-seriousness and filtered through the lens of 2010s ironic self-awareness. However, these elements do not compliment one another, and Charlie’s Angels is never particularly interested in either smoothing over the gaps or exploring the dissonance. The result is an aesthetic that is probably best described as “comedically sociopathic.

Three of a kind.

It’s a shame, because there is some interesting stuff here. Writer and director Elizabeth Banks plays with ideas like the female gaze, and trying to reappropriate the franchise’s iconography and history for the twenty-first century. However, Charlie’s Angels lacks the clean focus that is necessary for a project like this to work, it cannot even figure out whether it wants to be a ground-up rebuild of the classic model or a nostalgic tweak upon it, and so seems to wander the gulf between those two extremes.

Charlie’s Angels is a strangely lifeless blockbuster, for a film that tries to cram so much in.

Solid as a rock?

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A Doll’s Place is in the Home: The Sly, Semi-Subversive Domestic Politics of “Annabelle Comes Home”…

Annabelle Comes Home is an intriguing film. It’s arguably more intriguing than it is successful.

A large part of that is down to the way in which it very much basks in its position as an unlikely lynch pin of a horror shared universe populated by a variety of ghosts and ghouls that seem to be clamouring for their own spin-off movies like Annabelle or The Nun as the eponymous demonic doll just sits back and watches. It’s a surreal spectacle, particularly for a horror movie. Annabelle herself often feels like something of a passenger in her own movie, instead a tether for a variety of episodic horror adventures.

However, there is something more subversive and intriguing happening beneath the surface of the film. As the title implies Annabelle Comes Home is a story centred on the domestic environment, on a suburban family home menaced by a sinister supernatural threat. This is a standard horror movie set-up. A lot of horror movies focus on the idea of evil within the family environment, whether coming from within or without. Annabelle Comes Home borrows a number of cues from The Shining, including the bass on the soundtrack and a possessed typewriter, but it runs much deeper than that.

A lot of horror films focus on the nuclear family placed under siege, often as a metaphor for the pressures at work in the real world. Stephen King has pointed to movies like The Amityville Horror as examples as “economic horror”, reflecting the anxieties of families sinking into debt in their family homes during the seventies. (As if to underscore the point, the real life case that inspire the film was a fraud to help the family get out of debt.) Similarly, the liberal single-parent household in The Exorcist turns back to the Church, perhaps expressing deep-seated anxieties about liberalisation or shifting cultural norms.

There is often a strongly reactionary subtext to these sorts of horror stories. It is not always a conscious choice on the part of the production team, but it is rooted in the fact that change is scary and that subversions of conventional conservative dynamics are unsettling in large part because those conventional conservative dynamics are so ubiquitous. In short, audiences tend to see conventional family units as the default, so anything that attacks or erodes that is potentially uncanny and unsettling, and so many horror movies play on that instinctive reaction.

There are any number of obvious examples of how this approach can lead to very uncomfortable and unsettling implications. The Curse of La Llorona is perhaps an obvious (and easy) contemporary example. The basic set up of the movie finds a single (widowed) mother struggling to provide for her children; she has to leave them for extended periods to work at her job, but is also held back at that job because she is a single mother. Meanwhile, a Mexican spirit invades the family home and attaches itself to her children. The result is a film that seems to be about a single mother who leaves her children open to a foreign threat.

Part of what makes Annabelle Comes Home so interesting is the way in which it seems to play with this central dynamic, how it teases out and subverts some of the central subtext of the larger horror genre to which it belongs. Annabelle Comes Home is not so much a story about outside forces menacing a conventional family within the seeming comfort of their home, but is instead a story about two young women who end up trapped inside a suburban home and attacked by the monstrous forces that the family have consciously placed there and even folded built into the structure.

Annabelle Comes Home offers a slyly feminist twist on the familiar domestic horror.

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“This Was Supposed to Be a Spiritual Experience”: The Mid-Nineties Ennui of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

I’ve never been able to watch it with any kind of perspective. To me it just looks like some crude backyard movie a bunch of kids slapped together. There seems to me to be, on one hand, a group of people who were strictly horror fans who venerated it. Only over time has it come to occupy a very peculiar position, and I still don’t have any concept of what that is. I think we just wanted to hang a bunch of people on meat hooks, chop ’em up, and sell tickets at the theatre.

– Kim Henkel discusses The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is a very nineties film, speaking to a very unique set of nineties anxieties.

There is something very revealing and candid about certain kinds of bad movies. Of course, many bad movies are just bad, hacky executions of well-worn concepts without any insight or skill to anchor them. However, there are some bad movies that seem driven by a strange source of passion and energy, which makes them bizarre snapshots of a particular time and place. It is almost a sort of candour, an unguarded bluntness, that allows them to articulate their perspective without any of the consideration or care of a better film.

The Next Generation is one of those films. It is, to be entirely clear, a terrible film. It is sloppily constructed. It is terribly framed. It is incoherently plotted. Its characters are drawn in the crudest of terms. Most damningly, it combines two particularly awful subgenres of the “bad movie” archetype. It is both a horror movie that is not scary and a black comedy that is not funny. It is, by all accounts, a disaster. Watching the film, the question isn’t how the release was delayed for three years. Instead, the question becomes how the film was ever released at all.

However, whether in spite of because of all of this, The Next Generation feels like a weird snapshot of a particular mid-nineties mood. Somehow, while groping around in the darkness, it accidentally puts its finger on the pulse.

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126. Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) – Anime April 2019 (#216)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Marianne Cassidy, 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 second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime April, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze no tani no Naushika and Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira.

This week, the first part of the double bill, Kaze no tani no Naushika, celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary.

Unofficially and retroactively folded into the Studio Ghibli canon, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was only Hayao Miyazaki’s second film. Nevertheless, it demonstrated remarkable confidence. It also signalled a lot of the director’s interests, with its tale of a strong young woman navigating the aftermath of a horrific environmental disaster and trying to prevent a new war from breaking out.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 216th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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