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89. The Intouchables (#38)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Kieran Gillen, 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 Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s Intouchables.

Sparks fly and worlds collide when a wealthy quadriplegic hires an unemployed former felon to serve as his personal care nurse. Philippe and Driss forge an unlikely and heartwarming bond, coming to a deeper understanding of on another and the world around them.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 38th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Luke Cage – Can’t Front On Me (Review)

On of the most remarkable things about Luke Cage is just how much it enjoys being a superhero series, particularly compared to the other Marvel Netflix series.

The Punisher felt distinctly uncomfortable with its source material, and so instead tried to position itself as a low-rent 24 knock-off. Jessica Jones largely embraces the superhero genre as a vehicle for metaphors about trauma rather than as something to be enjoyed or appreciated of itself. Iron Fist made a strange choice to tone down both the most outlandish aspects of its character’s back story and the genre elements inherent in a kung-fu exploitation adventure. Daredevil is the only show to give its protagonist a costume, but it skews towards a much more sombre and serious school of superheroics.

All of these series contrast with Luke Cage, which eagerly embraces the trappings of the superhero genre, even as the second season remains deeply ambivalent about the very idea of a superhero. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has described himself “a hip-hop showrunner”, and that sensibility infused the series. Hip-hop is a genre that heavily draws on sampling and remixing, so it makes sense that Luke Cage should draw on that tradition with its own stylistic influences, embracing the opportunity to create a deeply affectionate (and surprisingly traditional) superhero story around its hero.

For a story that inevitably goes to some very grim places, Luke Cage takes a great deal of joy in being a superhero television series.

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75. Amadeus (#82)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT, with the occasional weekend off.

This time, Miloš Forman’s Amadeus.

Following a failed suicide attempt, ageing composer Antonio Salieri is consigned to psychiatric institution while babbling incoherently. When a young priest comes to visit, Salieri offers an account of his life. In particular, he elaborates upon a confession that he made on the night that he tried to take his life, that he murdered an illustrious young rival by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 82nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Whiplash

The joy of Whiplash is in how the film subverts so many of the conventions of the “unconventional teacher pushes promising young student” subgenre. A one-sentence plot summary for the film suggest an inspirational and life-affirming tale. Andrew heads to a prestigious music school to hone his skills on the drums, and encounters an obnoxious and confrontational teacher who pushed him to his limits. One can already hear the applause, see the inevitable hug, feel the radiating mutual respect.

Whiplash carefully and meticulously subverts these expectations, avoiding many of the familiar plot beats that one might expect from a story like this. There’s a raw, gruelling honesty to the story – Whiplash is not a story calibrated or tailored to make the audience feel particularly comfortable or happy. Indeed, it addresses its central themes with a refreshing candidness. It asks some very tough questions about honing talent and the responsibilities of a teacher. It doesn’t offer any easy answers.

Anchored in two compelling central performances and a beautiful soundtrack, Whiplash builds to a beautifully cathartic climax, one that refuses to wrap too tight a bow around an intriguing little film.

Stick around...

Stick around…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Ray Butts (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.

Ray Butts is a collection of familiar war movie clichés.

Space: Above and Beyond is effectively a gigantic Second World War movie in space, and Ray Butts allows creators Glen Morgan and James Wong to roll two of the most instantly recognisable war movie archetypes into a single character. The eponymous officer is at once a soldier traumatised by his past experiences and a tough new commander for a young unit. He is a source of friction on the show, kept ambiguous and mysterious for most of the episode’s runtime.

We salute you...

We salute you…

Ray Butts piles on the questions. The show doesn’t reveal his orders for quite a while, asking the audience to decide whether they trust the orders – let alone the man assigned to carry them out. The show also plays up questions around Butts himself; is Butts a man trying work through his own issues in his own way, or simply a risk-taking and borderline incompetent commanding officer? Ray Butts doesn’t have too many surprises, but it works because Morgan and Wong know how to structure an episode of television.

After the misfiring ambition of The Dark Side of the Sun, it feels almost like Ray Butts puts Morgan and Wong back in their element.

Don't shoot the chef!

Don’t shoot the chef!

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The X-Files – D.P.O. (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.

What is interesting about the third season of The X-Files is the way that everything seemed to click into place. After two years of figuring out how various parts of the show worked, the series was in a place where it worked like a finely-honed machine. The conspiracy episodes hit all the right boxes. The second season had demonstrated the show could do experimental or even humourous episodes. Even the standard “monster of the week” shows were delivered with more confidence and style.

While D.P.O. may not be the strongest episode of the third season, it is an example of how comfortable the show has become. It is an episode that move incredibly well, where the vast majority of the pieces click, and one which is fondly remembered by the fan base. There’s a very serious argument to be made that writer Howard Gordon was the best author of “monster of the week” scripts working on the show at this point, and D.P.O. demonstrates how well he crafts these sorts of stories.

Cooking up a storm...

Cooking up a storm…

D.P.O. also benefits from any number of elements that make it seem memorable, even if it is “business as usual” after a massive three-part conspiracy epic. The opening sequence – featuring Ring the Bells by James – is one of the first times the show has so successfully integrated music into its action, something that would become a memorable part of later shows and even Millennium. The guest cast features Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black. The episode also perfectly captures teen angst in an insightful manner.

The show was apparently drawn from an index card labelled “lightning boy”, which had been on Chris Carter’s white board since the first season. It’s very hard to imagine the show pulling off something like D.P.O. during its first season. While it might have worked towards the end of the second season, the start of the third season seems the perfect place for it.

Cloudy with a chance of angst...

Cloudy with a chance of angst…

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Non-Review Review: Begin Again

Music is absolutely wonderful. It’s a method of communication that has the tremendous ability to bring people together, and to help set mood and tone. Of course, there’s all sorts of delightful complications to it – although songs may capture a particular moment in the life of the songwriter, as if trapping emotions in amber, they also capture particular moods and moments for the person listening to the music. A snippet of a song overhead faintly on a radio through an apartment wall can serve as a gateway back in time.

Although – speaking strictly scientifically – smell is the sense that leads most directly to memory, music has perhaps the strongest emotional resonance. Beloved songs provide a snapshot of something as transcendental as sensation and atmosphere. It is very hard to put these sentiments into words, to articulate through language. A guitar chord struck at the right time in the right rhythm, or a syllable stressed in one direction rather than any other, can say so much in such a small space.

Begin Again is a charming romantic ode to the power of music, beautifully and elegantly capturing the romance of song.

Playing along...

Playing along…

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