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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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Non-Review Review: The Aftermath

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

The Aftermath starts with a fascinating premise.

Unfolding in the immediate wake of the Second World War, The Aftermath finds Rachael Morgan joining her husband Lewis Morgan in Hamberg for the British Occupation of the city. Tensions are running high. Most of the city lies in ruins, bodies still being pulled from the rubble. Both sides are nursing old wounds that threaten to fester. Rachel finds herself confronting these wounds even more acutely than she expected. When the Morgans move into a stately home on the outskirts of the city, Lewis suggests that the German family might remain there rather than being relocated to “the camps.” As a result, the two sides find themselves living under the same roof; British and German, occupied and occupier, winner and loser.

This is an intensely charged set-up, and one with a lot of potential. It is one thing to fight a war, it is another to end it. Reconciliation is always a challenge, particularly when dealing with a catastrophe on the scale of the Second World War. Given the trauma that both sides inflicted upon one another and the scars that still sting, forcing a British and German family to live in close proximity while those wounds are still fresh should lead to incredible drama. What is it like to surrender one’s home to an occupying force, but to linger there as a guest – or maybe a ghost? What is like to be surrounded by a people who were once bent on conquest and domination, but now find themselves at the mercy of the nations they tried to subjugate?

The Aftermath doesn’t really answer these questions. Indeed, it often struggles to articulate them. Instead, it offers a clichéd romantic triangle melodrama against this backdrop, offering a decidedly trashy narrative within the trappings of prestige. The Aftermath has an engaging central performance from Keira Knightley, but it suffers from a lack of chemistry between its three leads and a truly terrible management of tone. The Aftermath aspires to be a story of a simmering cold war, but is completely lacking any spark.

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Non-Review Review: Wilkolak (“Werewolf”)

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Werewolf is pretty solid “Nazisploitation”, those sorts of genre (usually horror) pieces that play off the imagery and reality of the Second World War.

Werewolf is certainly stronger than other recent examples of the genre, such as Overlord. Focusing on a group of children Holocaust survivors who find themselves menaced by a pack of feral dogs from the camp, Werewolf is a story about trauma, violence and victimhood. It is a film about how these things self-perpetuate, and how these cycles of abuse need to be broken. Writer and director Adrian Panek frames this story through the lens of horror.

This certainly makes sense. The Second World War and the Holocaust were a trauma on a global scale, but most obviously on the European continent. The concentration camps were build outside of Germany, spreading the horror across the region. Poland was home to six extermination camps, something that leaves an indelible mark on a region. Werewolf navigates this trauma through  familiar horror movie staples; the orphans in the gothic mansion, the haunted woods, the allegorical monster, the group that threatens to fracture and fray under pressure.

The only real problem with Werewolf is that it’s simply not scary enough to work as a horror movie.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Memorial (Review)

Memorial is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager doing a generic Star Trek story.

The episode has a very basic premise that allows for the construction of a science-fiction allegory, the kind of storytelling associated with the franchise dating back to early adventures like The Devil in the Dark or Errand of Mercy. Despite its unique premise and set-up, Voyager had largely embraced the archetypal mode of Star Trek storytelling in its third season. A lot of Voyager episodes feel very broad and very generic, and could easily be adapted for another series – whether inside or outside the franchise.

The real devil in the dark.
Spoiler: It’s us.

There any number of episodes that are not rooted in the specific premise of Voyager, that could easily have been reworked or reinvented for another crew at another point. The Chute was a harrowing story about the horrors of mass incarceration and its capacity to turn people into animals. Nemesis was a meditation on killology, in the way that militaries turn soldiers into killing machines. Scientific Method was a treatise on the horrors of animal testing. Random Thoughts was paranoia about “political correctness gone mad” translated into forty minutes of television.

Memorial belongs to a very specific subset of these episodes, something of a bridge between the more generic Star Trek storytelling to which Voyager aspires and a slightly more specific area of thematic interest. Voyager is a series very much engaged with the idea of memory and history, perhaps befitting the Star Trek series that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first century. Episodes like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness are all archetypal Star Trek stories, but they are built around ideas of particular interest to Voyager.

The past never remains buried.

As the title implies, Memorial belongs to that very specific subset of episodes. It is easy to imagine a version of Memorial starring James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko or Jonathan Beckett Archer. It is a generic Star Trek episode that could work with any crew, perhaps meaning something slightly different in each context. (On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it would be an “O’Brien must suffer!” episode. In fact, Hard Time is quite close.) However, it is an episode that engages overtly with ideas that are of great interest to Voyager.

Memorial is about the importance of memory and history, even in a world where time seems to have lost all meaning.

Standing watch over history.

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78. The Grand Budapest Hotel (#192)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guests Stacy Grouden and Charlene Lydon, and featuring Phil Bagnall, 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, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious ruin on the continent of Europe. A visiting author happens to strike up a conversation with the establishment’s owner, who crafts an epic and heartwarming tale of love, murder and scandal against the backdrop of the chaotic mid-twentieth century.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 192nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Latent Image (Review)

Latent Image is a powerful allegorical piece of Star Trek, a prime example of how Star Trek: Voyager could occasionally spin gold from its shift towards a more “archetypal Star Trek” template. It is a story that could easily have been told with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example.

At the same time, Latent Image is a story that touches on many of the core themes of Voyager, many of the show’s key recurring fixations and fascinations. It is an episode about the link between memory and identity, about the importance of preserving history rather than burying it; it touches upon both the metaphorical manipulation of history in stories like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness and the literal manipulation of the past in stories like Future’s End, Part IFuture’s End, Part IIYear of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Picture imperfect.

However, it filters that experience through Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s recurring fascination with themes of identity and self-definition. The writers have often used the artificial characters on Voyager to explore the malleability of self, how easily the sense of self might be eroded or decayed; the EMH grappled with this challenge in Projections and Darkling, while Seven wrestled with it in Infinite Regress. The artificial characters on Voyager frequently seemed on a verge of a nervous breakdown.

Latent Image is notable for wedding these two concepts together, for integrating these two concepts and exploring the manipulation of an individual’s history as the root of an identity crisis. What happens to the EMH in Latent Image is at once an extension of the dysfunction suggested in Projections and Darkling as well as a more intimate exploration of the cultural identity crises in episodes like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness. Latent Image suggests that memory is the thread that ties identity together. Without that continuity of self, everything unravels.

A bone to pick with him.

As such, Latent Image exists in an interesting space. It is a story that works very well as a high-concept character study, focusing on the nature of the EMH has a computer programme. Although episodes like Pen Pals suggest that Starfleet has the power to remove memories from biological life forms, the plot of Latent Image could not work as well with a character like Kim or Paris. At the same time, it is a broader allegory about how important memories and experiences are in terms of defining who a person is, and how dealing with these memories defines a cultural identity.

Latent Image is a powerful and clever piece of television.

The camera never lies.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Killing Game, Part I (Review)

In some ways, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feel like a perfect companion piece to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes are very much larger-than-life archetypal Star Trek storytelling. While Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II riffed on Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home, and Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II borrowed liberally from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II draw from a broader pool of franchise iconography for a Star Trek: Voyager spectacular.

A cut above.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II or Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are very much concerned with themes of memory and history. Much like Henry Starling or Annorax, the Hirogen are presented as villains waging a war upon history. They have no history or culture, usurping that of the crew and distorting it to serve their own whims and desires. Of course, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II features no literal time travel, merely holographic.

However, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II is more than just archetypal Voyager. These preoccupations with memory and history are wrapped up in a whole host of broad and iconic Star Trek idea. Although the two-parter features a number of different plot threads, including the recreation of a classic Klingon conflict, the bulk of the action unfolds in a holographic simulation of the Second World War. Once again, the Star Trek franchise returns to that conflict as a formative and defining moment.

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky.

Indeed, the two-parter even makes a point to weave the franchise’s core humanism into its sprawling epic pseudo-historical conflict. As much as The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are driven by spectacle, writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky are careful to integrate classic Star Trek themes into the episode. While the story begins with the Voyager crew defeated and subjugated by the Hirogen, it ends with a peaceful settlement. Janeway grants the Hirogen a chance to save their people. Coexistence seems possible.

As such, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feels like an intentionally broad smorgasbord of Star Trek themes and iconography. It feels very much like the culmination of the journey that Voyager has been on since the start of the third season, with the production team aspiring to produce a show that might not have its own distinct texture or identity but which retains an archetypal “Star-Trek-ian” quality.

Evil alien space Nazis!

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