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245. Tumbbad – This Just In (#250)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guest Joey Keogh, 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, Anand Gandhi, Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad’s Tumbbad.

In a remote Indian village, something ancient and evil is lurking beneath the surface. As the country moves towards independence, Vinayak Rao finds a way to exploit the mysteries of Tumbbad to his own advantage. However, nothing comes without a price.

At time of recording, it was ranked 250th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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240. Fargo (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair and Stacy Grouden, 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, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo.

A routine kidnapping case spirals into something far more sinister and unsettling in an isolated corner of Minnesota. Arriving to the scene of a brutal roadside murder, Chief of Police Marge Gunderson finds herself embroiled in a complicated and chaotic story of greed and violence with horrific consequences.

At time of recording, it was ranked 176th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead arrives with relatively few expectations.

There’s something very refreshing and very appealing in this, particularly given the way that Snyder has become a cultural flashpoint due to his work on films like Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, not to mention everything involving the production and release (and subsequent restoration) of Justice League. With all of that in the rear view mirror, it is exciting to sit down and watch as Zack Snyder movie that is… just a Zack Snyder movie.

Warding off evil.

Indeed, Army of the Dead is arguably something of a throwback for the director, marking a return to his earliest work. As a hyper-violent zombie action movie with a satirical edge, Army of the Dead invites comparisons to his first feature-length film, his remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. However, Army of the Dead is not a belated sequel or continuation. It is that rare modern big-budget genre film that stands as much on its own as it is possible for a high-concept zombie movie.

Army of the Dead is not a masterpiece by any stretch. It’s a little indulgent and overlong, suffering from the familiar pacing and tonal issues that affect many movies produced by Netflix. However, Army of the Dead is a fun and interesting genre if approached on its own terms. More than anything, freed from the constraints of established properties and shared universes and the ensuing scrutiny, Army of the Dead feels like Snyder is actually having fun. It is hard to begrudge it that.

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“He’s Smart, You’re Dumb!” The Cynical Idiocy of “The Wolf of Wall Street”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, just finished a season of coverage of director Martin Scorsese. The weekend before last, we discussed Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a fun, broad discussion that digs into the movie in a lot of depth. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about the film’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort.

Martin Scorsese was seventy-one years old when The Wolf of Wall Street was released, and had a filmography that stretched across six decades.

As such, it is heartening that Scorsese had a film like The Wolf of Wall Street in him. The film runs three hours, but moves with an impressive and exhausting energy. Critic Robbie Collin described The Wolf of Wall Street as “a picture that would have exhausted a director half his age.” Indeed, it seems fair to say that the film exhausted quite a few of its audience. The Wolf of Wall Street was the highest-grossing movie of Scorsese’s career, but there is some evidence it was divisive with audiences – earning a controversial “C” CinemaScore.

Indeed, the film earned no shortage of outrage. Scorsese himself was reportedly accosted at a screening for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by veterans chanting “shame on you!” The film’s portrayal of greed and excess prompted something of a moral panic. There legitimate concerns raised about where the money to fund the movie came from. There was also the reasonable observation that Scorsese had constructed The Wolf of Wall Street in such a way as to obscure the victims of Jordan Belfort.

Of course, this is something Scorsese’s films have always done, and a way in which they have consistently made the audience uncomfortable by effective immersing them in a world governed by characters who are hostile and dangerous. Taxi Driver seldom allowed itself to step outside Travis Bickle’s head, with the audience forced to confront “god’s loneliest man.” Raging Bull refused to pathologise or explain Jake LaMotta, declining to reduce his psychology to trite cause and effect. Henry Hill took centre stage in Goodfellas, but the film itself suggested he was not to be trusted.

Scorsese’s output is often framed in religious terms, and there is a strong spirituality that runs through his work. It is obviously most apparent in films like The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun or Silence, but it is a constant throw line – even where religious authority is defined by its absence, with Casino feeling like a story about what happens when man believes that God is not watching. However, Scorsese’s films also trade in doubt, challenging the audience with the fear that there may be no external arbitrator to balance the scales.

The Wolf of Wall Street offers little in the way of emotional catharsis, little by way of reassurance that people like Belfort will be punished for their crimes or that the victims will be compensated. After all, even by 2013, it was obvious that nobody actually responsible for the financial crisis would be held to account. Scorsese stated in interviews that the anger that The Wolf of Wall Street generated was part of the film’s point. “It should touch a nerve!” he insisted in interviews around the film’s release, explaining why he declined to offer a more moralistic movie.

Of course, like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas before it, The Wolf of Wall Street does condemn its subjects. Of course there are plenty of reports of stockbrokers on Wall Street loving the movie, just as many gangsters loved The Godfather. However, it seems highly unlikely that any reasonable person leaving The Wolf of Wall Street could feel any sympathy or warmth for Jordan Belfort, or that anybody paying attention to the film could imagine that his lifestyle would lead to anything other than disaster and betrayal, even if he avoided jail or bankruptcy.

More than that, The Wolf of Wall Street is notable for its refusal to glamourise Belfort himself. The film consistently portrays its subject as a moron defined only by his ravenous id, all impulse and no control. Indeed, some of that Scorsese spirituality shines through. Belfort often seems less than human, incapable of the reasoning, self-control and empathy that elevates a human being. Indeed, to frame the portrayal in Catholic terms, the elements that suggest the existence of a soul. The Wolf of Wall Street is about an animal more than a man.

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211. The Wolf of Wall Street – Summer of Scorsese (#142)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guests Luke Dunne and Aoife Martin, 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, concluding our Summer of Scorsese with his most recent film on the list, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Kundun, Gangs of New YorkThe Aviator, The DepartedShutter IslandHugo, The Irishman. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Jordan Belfort developed a reputation as one of the most amoral stockbrokers working in the financial industry, wearing the name “the Wolf of Wall Street” as a badge of honour. Belfort is afforded the chance to tell his own side of the story, of the gaudy excess and tasteless indulgence that defined the industry for so many years.

At time of recording, it was ranked 142nd on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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200. Goodfellas – Summer of Scorsese (#17)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, with Andy Melhuish, Jack Hodges and others, 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 Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Colour of Money, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

As far back as he could remember, Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. However, the life that Henry leads doesn’t turn out exactly as the young hoodlum might have expected, as he finds himself navigating a web of betrayal and violence involving his closest friends.

At time of recording, it was ranked 17th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Greed

Greed, for lack of a better word, is not good.

Greed belongs to a relatively recent subgenre, the sort of ironic and winking social commentary of films like The Big Short, Vice and Bombshell. There is a sense with these sorts of films that earnestness is overdone, that aching sincerity will only get a strong moral message so far, and that the proper way to engage with audiences is through a wry self-awareness that acknowledges the cynicism of the world in which people live. Theoretically, this approach allows the film to communicate strong central themes without potentially alienating audiences through self-righteousness or self-satisfaction.

Like all subgenres, the quality of the end result varies on a case-by-case basis. However, Greed seems like a project perfectly suited to director Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom is a director who frequently blends fact and fiction in his work – to point where, due to his work on projects like The Trip and Tristram Shandy, a lot of his collaborations with Steve Coogan involve the actor playing a fictionalised version of himself. So there’s something interesting in the way that Greed takes a template often applied to true stories and instead builds a story around a fictional avatar of capitalism, Sir Richard MacReady.

However, Greed just doesn’t work. It’s not consistently funny enough to pull off the knowing approach to its tale of global inequality. It packs fewer genuine laughs into its runtime than more direct critiques of capitalist excess like The Wolf of Wall Street. It also lacks the comfort of projects like The Big Short and Vice in blending exposition into narrative, often clumsily halting its story to deliver earnest lectures almost directly into the camera through painful framing devices. “Think of me as an idiot,” insists one character, before setting in motion the obligatory “how capitalism works” montage.

More to the point, the narrative elements themselves also struggle, with the film awkwardly trying to casually set up dominoes to build to a seemingly chaotic outcome that looks a little too arch and too planned to come across as spontaneous. This is the problem with Greed. The film, ironically enough, seems greedy. It wants to do too much, it wants to be too many things. As a result, it winds up under-cooking the constituent elements and struggling to find a way to integrate them into a cohesive whole.

Greed is an interesting work in that – like Bombshell – it serves as a reminder that films like The Big Short and Vice are managing a much more complicated balancing act than might originally appear.

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“The Price You Pay for Being Successful”: How “The Empire Strikes Back” Was One of the First Blockbusters of the Eighties…

Star Wars is often discussed in the context of the late seventies, whether the political context of the Vietnam War or George Lucas’ status as an up and coming director alongside the likes of Francis Ford Coppola or Steven Spielberg or even just the way in which it shifted movie-making away from the new Hollywood model towards the blockbuster template.

Despite all of this, it is often overlooked just how firmly Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is rooted in the context of the early eighties. There are obviously any number of reasons for this. Most obviously, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi consciously retreated back to the late seventies trappings of the original film, right down to its decision to restage the Vietnam War with adorable toyetic teddy bears in the place of the Viet Cong. There’s also a sense in which the cultural markers of The Empire Strikes Back are more subtle than those of Star Wars.

Sabre-rattling.

Watched from a modern perspective, The Empire Strikes Back seems to herald the arrival of the new decade. Like all great sequels, it broadens both the scale and scope of Star Wars, but it also pushes the franchise forward. Even beyond the now iconic revelations about family lineage and power dynamics, The Empire Strikes Back radically redefines what it means to be a Star Wars film. It is no longer about navigating the moral ambiguity of an uncertain time, wrestling with the spectre of American might. It is instead about exploring social power structures, of finding one’s place in system.

The Empire Strikes Back might just be the first truly great eighties movie.

A little father-son outreach.

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My 12 for ’14: The Wolf of Wall Street and More!

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Everything about The Wolf of Wall Street is excessive, even its length.

Still, The Wolf of Wall Street never feels like long film. This is somewhat paradoxical. After all, the film does not have too much ground to actually cover. For a film that runs to almost three hours, the movie has a pretty straightforward plot. Cinema audiences are quite familiar with this sort of story: the story of a wealthy crook who inevitably (and spectacularly) implodes. The audience watching The Wolf of Wall Street knows the tale inside out: the arrogance, the hubris, the greed; the consequences, the price, the fallout.

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Of course, our villain doesn’t really implode. It turns out that – despite what we’d like to believe – crime does pay. The Wolf of Wall Street alludes to this uncomfortable truth in its closing scene, as Belfort attracts an audience of people eager (and willing to pay) to learn his financial secrets. The cruel gag extends even beyond the movie’s own narrative into the real world; Belfort has boasted he made more from The Wolf of Wall Street than he did from his time on Wall Street. He has used very little of that money to pay back the victims he swindled.

In many ways, The Wolf of Wall Street plays like a belated companion piece to Goodfellas or Casino, a loose exploration of greed and corruption that avoids a lot of the easy moralising that audiences have come to expect from stories like this. Instead, The Wolf of Wall Street basks in its hedonism, affording its villainous protagonist almost unquestioned control of the narrative. As such, it seems to tease the audience: who would be able to refuse such luxury and such debauchery? There’s something delightful uncomfortable in how the film needles the viewer.

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The X-Files (Topps) – The Pit (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Tucked away in the Winter 1996 issue of The X-Files Magazine and republished with The Silent Sword in September 1996, The Pit is an atmospheric short story from Petrucha and Adlard, demonstrating the two work quite well together across a variety of formats. The Pit is only nine pages long, including two splash pages – and another half-page splash. There isn’t a lot of room for plot or detail. Instead, Petrucha and Adlard opt for mood and atmosphere, crafting a weird and spooky little diversion.

All fall down...

All fall down…

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