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130. (i) Mary and Max (#177) – Interview with Adam Elliot and Andy Hazel

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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 weekend, we’ll be discussing Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max with the wonderful Andy Hazel.

However, Andy actually managed to sit down with director Adam Elliot to discuss the film and his career in general. It’s a fun and wide-ranging discussion, covering a host of topics from the writer-director’s influences to his future plans to the film’s place on the list and even the difficulty securing international distribution. We hope you enjoy, and join us again on Saturday for our discussion of the film itself with Andy.

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Non-Review Review: Booksmart

Booksmart has charm to burn.

Olivia Wilde’s feature length directorial debut is built from a familiar high school coming-of-age template. It is the story of two kids who just want to party before graduation and before heading their separate ways. There are any number of films built outward from that premise, or even core components of that premise. Booksmart is canny enough to understand the genre in which it is working. Indeed, the casting of Beanie Feldstein seems designed to directing invoke two key touchstones; Feldstein’s most notable role to date remains her supporting role in Lady Bird, and her brother Jonah Hill launched his career (in part) off the success of Superbad.

Partying is such sweet sorrow.

As with any movie in a familiar genre, the success Booksmart hinges on the execution more than the concept. There are dozens of films riffing on similar ideas, so Booksmart needs to distinguish itself in how it approaches the material in question. The film elevates this somewhat stock premise through the use of a charming cast and surprising emotional earnestness. It helps that the comedy driving the film is both very well-observed on its own terms and tends towards the affectionate rather than the mean-spirited. There’s an affectionate humanism in Booksmart, and the recurring suggestion that characters are more than just the roles that they play in the highly performative environment of high school.

However, it is the two leads that truly elevate Booksmart, working with a sharp script and confident direction to create an engaging and endearing portrait of teenage insecurities.

Hold on!

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Non-Review Review: Float Like a Butterfly

Unlike its protagonist, Float Like a Butterfly never quite figures out what it wants to be.

Float Like a Butterfly finds itself trapped between two different genres. On one side, Float Like a Butterfly aims for gritty social realism, charting a Traveller family as they attempt to navigate the uncaring Ireland of the early seventies. This is a familiar and naturalistic coming of age story, focusing on young Frances as she tries to hold her family together while her recently released father Michael sinks deeper and deeper into a drunken stupor. Frances is caught between the conservative patriarchal ideals of her own community, and the predatory hatred of the outside community.

The haymaker.

On the other hand, Float Like a Butterfly tries to position itself as an empowering sports movie, the familiar template about a confused and alienated young person who finds meaning and purpose through the expression that sport offers. Inspired by none other than Mohammad Ali himself, Frances aspires to become “the greatest.” She takes up boxing, even inheriting a set of gloves at one point. This is a story about a woman who is pressed in by a conservative society, but who finds a necessary outlet through sport. It is a feel-good triumphant narrative.

To its credit, Float Like a Butterfly plays both sides of this narrative relatively well; it offers a compelling portrait of life on the margins when it aims for naturalism, and delivers the feeling of empowerment and elation when it evokes those upbeat sports films. The big problem with Float Like a Butterfly is that it never reconciles these two competing halves into a single cohesive film. It is too meandering and too grounded to really sell itself as a sports narrative, but too heightened and too structured in its familiar plot rhythms to work as a slice of life.

Winning ribbons.

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Non-Review Review: Wine Country

Wine Country should be a slam dunk.

The appeal Wine Country lies in its central cast. Wine Country assembles an impressive selection of older female comedians and drops them into a fairly standard premise that should allow them room to bounce off one another and enjoy themselves. It is a tried and true comic formula, the unleashing of a set of comedic personas on a familiar plot, the sole purpose of that stock set-up being to avoid getting in the way of the chemistry and charm of the cast. Wine Country has quite the cast; Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey, along with supporting turns from Tina Fey and Cherry Jones. That should be enough to get any comedy half way home.

Toast of the town.

The actual plot of Wine Country is fairly simple as such things go, but this is a canny move. Wine Country is designed as a cast showcase, and so the plot’s primary function is to serve as justification for bringing (and keeping) these characters together so that the film can bounce from one scene to the next. Wine Country is the story of a group of friends who come together to celebrate a fiftieth birthday, traversing the eponymous region while each dealing with their own personal and professional crises. Character traits are arbitrary, and their arcs simplistic; in many cases, it seems like the characters were developed through nothing more than vague word association, a collection of generic adjectives (“busy”“immature”“obsessive”) thrown into a hat and selected at random.

While this does hold Wine Country back, it isn’t the biggest issue with the film. Quite simply, Wine Country is put together in a frustratingly clumsy and haphazard manner, looking a feeling like a cloying made-for-television movie that somehow stumbled upon a phenomenal cast. The film looks flat and over-lit, even allowing for the sunny Californian setting. Many of the jokes feel lazy and obvious, grabbing the lowest hanging fruit; perhaps appropriate given how much time the film spends in vineyards. The soundtrack is awful and on the nose, slowly and loudly suffocating any genuine emotion the film might attempt to evoke. There’s no doubt that the cast and crew making Wine Country had a great time making the film, but none of that carries over to the finished product.

‘Til the (fri)end of time.

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Non-Review Review: Detective Pikachu

Detective Pikachu is disarmingly cute, both the movie and the character.

There are a number of serious problems with Detective Pikachu, although none of them are so serious as to become fatal flaws and most are easily explained by virtue of the film’s target audience. Most obviously, Detective Pikachu is never a movie that is particularly elegant in its storytelling. This is a film that burdened with an impressive volume of visual and spoken exposition, particularly in the opening half-hour. Characters are constantly expositing to one another, and often spelling out their motivations and perspectives for the benefit of the audience.

“Just want to take another Pikachu.”

However, once Detective Pikachu gets past that, there’s a lot of charm on display. A lot of that is down to the two central performances from Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith, both of whom provide solid emotional throughlines and play the comic absurdity of the premise. There is also a lot to be said for the efficiency of the script, which rockets through virtually everything that the audience might expect from a Pokémon film. The energy of the cast prevents it from ever feeling too much like a checklist.

Detective Pikachu never quite achieves the level of transcendence, never pushes past its simple premise towards something more intriguing or compelling. Instead, Detective Pikachu delivers pretty much what it promises, with an endearing and infectious smile on its face.

No drive.

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129. Avengers: Endgame – This Just In (#6)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Tony Black, 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, Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame.

At time of recording, it was ranked 6th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile

There’s an interesting film somewhere within Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile.

After all, the serial killer is a fascinating figure in the American popular consciousness. Although the serial killer’s stature has declined since its peak in the nineties, the recent “true crime” boom on both streaming services and in podcasts have helped to reignite some interest in the figure. Indeed, it is worth noting that Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile feels almost like a companion piece to director Joe Berlinger’s other Ted Bundy project, the Netflix documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. As such, it is perhaps revealing that Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile feels like an appendix to The Ted Bundy Tapes, an extra that dramatises the meatier material presented in that streaming service true crime documentary.

Killer good looks.

After all, although Berlinger has worked on narrative films before, he is known primarily as a documentarian. (There is some small irony that his most prominent narrative film is Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.) Inevitably, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile would feel secondary. It may have premiered on the festival before The Ted Bundy Tapes, but it was released afterwards, ensuring that to the casual viewer it will seem like something of a response to that breakout hit. More than that, though, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile feels like it has very little new to say about either its serial killer or its cultural context. There is surprisingly little in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile that isn’t evoked by the words “Ted Bundy.”

The serial killer is a well-explored subject in popular fiction, having been the focus of decades of narratives and deconstructions. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile looks for an interesting angle on its subject, but never finds a way in. The result is a film that has an interesting premise, but which struggled to get under the skin of a serial killer.

Slice of life.

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