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150. Joker – This Just In (#9)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, 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 week, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

In eighties Gotham, a failed clown descends into madness as the city breaks down around him. Garbage builds up in the streets as violence lurks in the alleyways. What kind of a man can survive such a world?

At time of recording, it was ranked 9th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Joker

The most interesting parts of Joker are inevitably going to be drowned out in shout matches about the least interesting parts of Joker.

Before the film was released, it seemed to have a totemic power. Critics (especially American critics) seemed tied up in how “dangerous” this cinematic origin story of a killer clown could be. Entertainment Weekly refused to assign the film a simple letter grade. Vulture ruminated on whether mainstream audiences were ready for a film that combined the moral ambiguity and grit of seventies cinema with the trappings of superhero blockbusters. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and director Todd Phillips did his bit to stir the pot by complaining about the “far left” or “woke” culture.

All of which seems to combine to suggest that Joker is a film of the moment, to imbue the live action R-rated autumnal release about Batman’s arch enemy with a powerful cultural resonance. Joker seemed to exist as a Rorschach test, even before anybody arguing about it had actually watched a full scene of footage from it. Listening to the chatter, reading the churn of the internet, it seemed like Joker had to mean something. Even if the film refused to provide a simple meaning, that meaning would be imposed on it. Joker was to be the best and worst of the current moment. It was to be a film that spoke to the “now.”

As such, it is almost a relief how stridently Joker refuses to actually say anything particularly insightful, and to trollishly chide the conversation around it for trying to force meaning upon it. In one of the film’s most absurdly on-the-nose moments, the camera passes over a demonstration outside a city opera house as protestors wave signs in the air. “We’re all clowns,” the sign proclaims. Amid the cacophony around it, how right Joker is.

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Non-Review Review: The Sisters Brothers

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 Sisters Brothers is a charming and deeply unfocused modern western.

Adapted from Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same time, The Sisters Brothers is a tale of two bounty hunters at work on the frontier. Working for the mysterious (and ominous) “Commodore”, Charlie and Eli Sisters are men of violence who stalk the wilderness in search of those who have wronged (or, to quote Charlie, “victimised”) their employer. However, the film is about more than just that. As with so many westerns, it is a story of encroaching modernity and civilisation atop a foundation of brutality and violence, and efforts to navigate the liminal space between the two.

Brothers’ keepers.

The Sisters Brothers works best when it focuses on its core cast, especially the eponymous murderous siblings played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly. There is an appealing tragedy to these two men and how they face the changing times. Charlie seems unwilling to acknowledge civilisation and society, revelling in debauchery and indulgence. Eli imagines himself capable of the sort of change that such a transition would demand from him. Pheonix and Reilly layer their performances in contradictions and nuance, suggesting life beneath the archetypes.

However, The Sisters Brothers is simply too unfocused and too meandering to completely work. This is particularly apparent when the film indulges in any number of narrative diversions, or when the film eschews its core narrative altogether to embrace a more philosophical perspective. The Sisters Brothers has great ideas, but those ideas tend to diffuse without a strong narrative structure around them. The Sisters Brothers often feels in need of a tighter edit and a strong script polish, which is a shame considering the strengths that it demonstrates otherwise.

Shore thing.

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Non-Review Review: Irrational Man

If Blue Jasmine could be read as an adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Woody Allen continues his journey through classic cinema (and novels and plays) with Irrational Man. The core of Irrational Man is built around the basic premise of Strangers on a Train, exploring the strange intersection of lives around a seemingly motiveless murder plot. Using the plot of Strangers on a Train as a springboard, Allen staged Irrational Man as a character study (very loosely) framed discussion of ethics and moral philosophy.

Set in a small-town New England college campus, Allen strips Patricia Highsmith’s novel down to its core elements. As with a lot of late-stage Woody Allen films, there is not so much a plot as a set of complications. The story is streamlined so as to allow a depth of focus on its central characters; murder is not swapped so much as volunteered, meaning that Irrational Man only has to focus on a single murder and its impact on a single set of characters. In this case, Allen focuses on Professor Abe Lucas and his student Jill Pollard.

Murder on the mind...

Murder on the mind…

Lucas is depressed and withdrawn; he is a philosopher who has lived a long and varied life, but who seems numbed by the experience. Lucas is not necessarily suicidal, but it doesn’t seem like he’d be too upset by the prospect of his own death. As fellow faculty member Rita Richards and bright young student Jill Pollard try to pull the philosopher out of his depression, a conversation overheard in a diner lights a spark. Listening to a stranger detail the injustices inflicted upon her, Lucas decides to set about righting wrongs on her behalf.

Irrational Man builds to a decidedly academic murder plot. It is very much “Woody Allen presents How to Get Away With Murder.”

"Voila Davis always gets higher student approval ratings."

“Voila Davis always gets higher student approval ratings.”

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A Little Gold Man, Far Away: Oscar Season as a Spectator Sport…

In case you hadn’t realised, Oscar season is in full swing. We’ve already had the Toronto International Film Festival. There’s already a front-runner in the form of The Master. The seemingly obligatory voting controversy has already been reported upon. Newspapers and on-line film websites are already launching their coverage of a race that won’t be over for another five months, despite the fact that many would argue the race probably already has a winner. And that discounts those websites already set up specifically for the race, which are (understandably) kicking into overdrive.

And I… find myself having difficulty mustering too much enthusiasm about it.

The show goes on…

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The Longest Wait: The Difference Between European and American Release Dates…

I have to confess, part of me is a little disappointed that we are slowly phasing out of blockbuster season and into the traditional Oscar season. Not because I prefer the films in one to the other, of course, but because it means that apparently my entire continent is going to drop off the radar for a few months. As the major studios in the United States scramble to get their best Oscar shots released in Los Angeles (and, often, the rest of the country) by the end of the year, it seems that they forget about the rest of the world. While the release of the summer blockbusters have gotten just a bit more synchronised, there’s still a sense that the release of the prestige pieces over here remains an afterthought.

Let’s deal with this fur once and fur all…

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Non-Review Review: Signs

You know what? Even though history and experience has retroactively soured the movie, with M. Night Shyamalan’s career entering freefall and Mel Gibson’s personal problems clouding his career, I kinda like Signs. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that the movie represents Shymalan’s last good film. That said, it’s a well-constructed and engaging little thriller that is, unfortunately, hugely flawed. Some of these flaws are so fundamental that they’re hard to ignore, but I think that this movie was the last time that Shyamalan demonstrated a real organic talent and skill for film making.

Shine a light on it...

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