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127. Akira – Anime April 2019 (#249)

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 Saturday at 6pm GMT.

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, Akira, set in the then-distant future of 2019.

In the streets of Neo-Tokyo, an entire generation is left to fend for itself. Against a backdrop of reckless violence and urban chaos, as the city seems ready to burn to the ground around them, teenagers Tetsuo and Kaneda have forged a friendship rooted in desperation and necessity. However, everything changes when Tetsuo has a fleeting encounter with a strange child, and opens doors to possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

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

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115. Roma – This Just In (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Aine O’Connor, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Mule

The Mule is an endearingly and charmingly bizarre piece of work, one which plays to both the best and worst impulses of its leading man and director.

A revealing moment comes very early in The Mule, when the protagonist is making his way through a horticultural convention. Pausing at a table where a salesman is explaining that customers can now order their flowers online, Earl pauses and sighs. “The internet,” he mutters to both himself and the audience. “Who needs that?” It’s a moment that serves as something of a litmus test, in which the audience find themselves asking how much that statement illuminates Earl’s perspective or the film’s central arguments.

Who needs Netflix money anyway?

Earl is very much an archetypal Clint Eastwood protagonist. He is crotchety, casually racist, well-intentioned and irresistibly charming. These elements are often uncomfortable when played off one another, with films like Gran Torino playing with the tension between the film’s perspective and the outdated views of its incredibly engaging protagonist. Eastwood is everybody irascible elderly relative, to the point that it’s almost impossible not to like him. Particularly in his later roles, Eastwood rarely plays characters who are actively malicious. They are just insensitive and blunt.

Of course, Earl is also a decidedly ambiguous figure. This is part of what defines him as an archetypal Clint Eastwood protagonist. Eastwood’s screen persona is the very definition of a certain sort of masculinity; confident, assured, assertive, canny. However, Eastwood’s screen persona is also built around deconstructing certain old-fashioned notions of masculinity, picking at the role that violence plays in defining a masculine identity or exploring the emotional consequences of rigid professionalism and stiff stoicism.

Case foreclosed.

Earl is incredibly disarming, and almost impossible not to like, a fact that The Mule repeatedly and consciously acknowledges. From Drug Enforcement Administration agents to cartel enforcers, Earl has the capacity to smooth-talk absolutely anyone. Attending his granddaughter’s wedding, his ex-wife very pointedly has to fight off the urge to succumb to Earl’s charm offensive. The Mule is quite conscious that Earl’s wit and charisma are not the entirety of who he is, and how they belie other less flattering aspects of his personality.

The Mule is a film that is stuck in a constant push-and-pull with its leading man, which results in an uneven but compelling film. The Mule never seems certain what to make of its title character, never sure how seriously it takes him. The result is to leave a lot of space for the audience to navigate their own reaction to the film’s cocaine-carted grandfather.

Not beaten yet.

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My 12 for ’18: Seeing It Again for the First Time in “First Man”

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number three.

It is difficult to separate First Man from the cultural war around it.

There is always at least one piece of awards fare that generates a storm in the proverbial teacup, often around hot-button political issues. La La Land was the most contentious Best Picture nominee of its awards cycle, generating heated debate around issues of identity and cultural appropriation. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the most controversial film the following year, most notably around its treatment of race and the portrayal of racism within local police departments.

First Man seems increasingly unlikely to secure a Best Picture nomination. This is likely in part due to its underwhelming box office performance, but also down to the toxic debate that has unfolded around it. It seems strange that the people so angry at First Man would be fine with the likely nomination of Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody in its stead, but that is another debate entirely. First Man was a film that was everything (and nothing) to everybody (and nobody), a seemingly impossible feat.

First Man notably had too few flags for Marco Rubio. First Man also notably had too many flags for Richard Brody. First Man had too little patriotism for Buzz Aldrin. First Man had too much patriotism for Slate film writer Mark Joseph Stern. This is a remarkable and notable accomplishment of itself. At a point when the world seems divided on absolutely everything, First Man seemed to unite both sides of the political spectrum in outrage. That is one giant leap, after all.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 17 (“Pusher”)

I’m back on The X-Cast this week, to cover a very special episode. Pusher is host Tony Black’s favourite episode, and we recorded this close to his birthday. So no pressure, then.

Pusher has long been a favourite of mine as well, a crackerjack suspense-filled episode from the powerhouse team of writer Vince Gilligan and director Rob Bowman. It’s an episode that works very well both within the confines of The X-Files itself and beyond. Even more than Soft Light, it is an episode that informs a lot of Gilligan’s core themes and ideas going forward. There is a surprising amount of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul to be found in the episode, for example.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Non-Review Review: American Animals

“To do this thing would take extraordinary effort,” observers Warren Lipka of his fiendish heist scheme in American Animals. “Not ordinary effort.”

Written and directed by Bart Layton, American Animals is a blend of documentary and dramatisation. It explores the true story of the effort by four young men to steal a collection of precious books from the Library of Transylvania, a scheme that went disastrously and spectacularly wrong. Adopting a style that recalls Bernie or a slightly more grounded I, Tonya, Layton slices interviews with the real-life criminals into a narrative reconstruction of the attempted crime. The results are intriguing, occasionally veering into an exploration of the malleability of memory and the limits of personal perspective.

Up to their old tricks.

At the same time, American Animals is very much engaged with a masculine middle-class malaise. A recurring motif of the film has various figures from around the four criminals pause to reflect upon the character of these young men. “They were good kids,” various talking heads assert over the course of the documentary, talking fondly about their childhoods and their schoolwork and their aspirations. The four young men at the heart of American Animals did not plan (and botch) a heist because they were bad kids or because they needed the money. They did not act out of desperation or anger.

Instead, American Animals suggests that the characters enacted this ambitious and absurd scheme out of a sense of boredom, out of a desire to escape the mundanity of their everyday lives, to do something “extraordinary” to transcend their so-called “ordinary” lives.

Model citizens.

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Non-Review Review: The Fast and the Furious

I’m rewatching The Fast and the Furious for a separate project, as solidarity with fellow film critic Jay Coyle for his “Cinema of Experience” project to look at the changing face of cinema in the twenty-first century. He’ll be writing up his account of how the experience of watching movies has changed in the past twenty-or-so years, but I found my rewatch of The Fast and the Furious interesting enough to write a longer-form review of it.

The Fast and the Furious is a curious piece of work, especially in the light of everything that followed.

From the opening scene through to the climactic setpiece, The Fast and the Furious is very much framed as an urban western, a tale of conflicted masculinity within an urban wasteland that might as well be lawless. Street racers serve as traffic cops at one point, blocking civilian cars from the predetermined race track without any interference from actual law enforcement. Towards the end, Dom Torreto seeks to evade the law by outrunning a train to a train crossing, one of the classic high-stakes western set pieces.

More than that, the introduction of Dom Torreto in The Fast and the Furious is very much meant to evoke the introduction of a western protagonist. He is first seen from obscured angles, glimpsed from behind and through a wire mesh. His presence is felt at a distance, an island of calm in a chaotic world. Torreto is introduced as an outlaw who seeks peace in a world that is constantly at war. This is perhaps a canny approach from a scripting and directorial perspective, acknowledging Vin Deisel’s strengths as a screen presence. Torreto’s first act is to break up a street fight outside the little restaurant stall operated by his sister.

Released in June 2001, The Fast and the Furious is one of the last action films of the nineties. It is a snapshot of a nation still paranoid about street gangs and boy racers, of urban decay and social collapse, of the apocalyptic notion that Los Angeles is the final frontier of the nation’s westward expansion. Explored in hindsight, these were perhaps more innocent times.

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