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248. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Indiana Summer 2021 (#124)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Tony Black and Darren Mooney, with special guest Deirdre Molumby, 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 Indiana Summer, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

When academic Henry Jones goes missing, it is up to his son Indiana to solve the case. However, as the intrepid archeologist digs into his father’s disappearance, Indiana finds himself confronting Nazis, unresolved family issues and the quest for the Holy Grail. The father and son forge an unlikely alliance and embark on an epic adventure, while struggling to rebuild their dysfunctional relationship.

At time of recording, it was ranked 124th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“Stay Out of the Light”: The Black-and-White Morality of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”…

This August, the podcast that I co-host, The 250, is doing a season looking at all four Indiana Jones films as part of our “Indiana Summer.” Last week, we looked at Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I had some thoughts on the film.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a film of stark contrasts.

This is true in a very literal sense. Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas had envisaged the film as a loving homage to classic black-and-white film serials, so it only makes sense that cinematographer Douglas Slocombe would populate the film with shadows and silhouettes. Spielberg has talked about wanting “a much moodier, almost neo-Brechtian style of light and shadow for this film”, and it’s notable that the lead character’s costume design was intended to be “immediately recognisable in silhouette.”

While Raiders of the Lost Ark is a visually rich film saturated in deep colours and strong images, it is also a movie obsessed with light and shadow. Indiana Jones is first introduced literally stepping out of the shadows. “Stay out of the light,” he warns a companion during the film’s opening scenes. Many of the film’s most striking images – like Jones visiting an old flame or workers toiling in the desert – are shot to make use of shadow and silhouette.

After all, much has been made of Steven Soderbergh’s Raiders, an experimental edit of the movie that strips out all sound and colour to repurpose Raiders of the Lost Ark as a black-and-white silent film. Soderbergh did this in an effort to force the audience to “watch this movie and think only about staging”, drawing attention to how carefully constructed Raiders of the Lost Ark was as a piece of film. After all, the movie is arguably as pure a cinematic rollercoaster as ever existed, a triumph of pure filmmaking.

However, there’s something revealing in this sharp contrast – in the clear boundaries that Raiders of the Lost Ark draws between light and darkness in its cinematic storytelling. At its core, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie about good and evil at work in the world, and the movie is anchored in the belief that good will prevail and evil will be judged. It’s a fascinating film, one that provides an interesting contrast with Steven Spielberg’s later work at the turn of the millennium on projects like A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, Munich and even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a striking piece of cinematic mythmaking, one that feels very true to its time and one firmly anchored in its director’s sensibility.

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246. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Indiana Summer 2021 (#55)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Tony Black and Darren Mooney, with special guest Niall Murphy, 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, kicking off our Indiana Summer, Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the lead-up to the Second World War, veteran archeologist Indiana Jones finds himself approached by the United States government with a top secret assignment: to locate and secure the long-lost Ark of the Covenant. However, to complete his mission, Indy will have to face Nazis, lost love and the wrath of God.

At time of recording, it was ranked 55th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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242. Captain America (-#65)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guest Scott Mendelson, The Bottom 100 is a subset of The 250. It is a journey through the worst 100 movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Albert Pyun’s Captain America.

Polio sufferer Steve Rogers is selected for a dangerous experiment that could turn the tide of the Second World War, being reborn as Captain America. When a mission behind enemy lines throws him into conflict with the Italian supervillain the Red Skull, Steve Rogers ends up trapped in the ice. However, he awakens just as his country needs him most.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 65th worst movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a Theme Park Ride and a Cinematic Marvel…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given that Raiders of the Lost Ark turned forty years old this summer, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at Steven Spielberg’s defining summer blockbuster.

In particular, Raiders of the Lost Ark is proof that it is possible for a “theme park ride” of a summer blockbuster to also function as a distillation of cinema. Everything in Raiders of the Lost Ark moves with singular purpose towards the same goal. It is a visceral and impressive technical accomplishment, but the craft involved in works in service of big ideas about the power of imagery and iconography. Form and function are indistinguishable, what the film is about becoming inseparable from how it is about it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a triumph of filmmaking.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life is both surprisingly moving and about an hour too long.

Writer and director Terrence Malick bases A Hidden Life around the true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter. During the Second World War, Jägerstätter was called up to serve in the armed forces. He refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, and so was punished for his pacifism. It’s a weighty and important story, and Malick ensures that any contemporary relevance will not be lost on viewers. A Hidden Life grapples with that most fundamental of questions, what it means to be a good person in a fallen world and how the measure of such morality might be taken.

Going to grass…

As one might expect from Malick, A Hidden Life is shot and edited in a rather disjointed and impressionist fashion. The film often feels like a waking dream. Scenes are not always clearly delineated, often beginning in the middle of abstract conversations that then play over atmospheric establishing shots like some sort of historical stream of consciousness. It’s an approach that has defined a lot of Malick’s later work, but is perhaps best seen as an outgrowth from Tree of Life. That sort of emotive and drifting storytelling style works oddly well when applied what is both a linear story and a familiar historical milieu.

The big problem with A Hidden Life is that it feels highly repetitive and redundant, particularly in its final ninety minutes. Rather than advancing or developing his thesis, Malick spends the final ninety minutes of the film just bluntly restating it over and over. It is exhausting, and not necessarily in the way that a film about the virtues of peaceful protest in an unjust world should be.

Peak Malick?

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“So, Your Son is a Nazi”: Modern Hollywood’s Weird Fixation on Feel-Good Stories About Fascists…

JoJo Rabbit is supposed to be an “anti-hate satire”, but what exactly is it satirising?

To be fair to director Taika Waititi, JoJo Rabbit is a well-made and charming crowd-pleaser. It manages something genuinely impressive, offering a feel-good coming of age comedy set against the backdrop of Germany in the dying days of the Second World War. It belongs the awkward, saccharine genre that produced films like Jakob the Liar or Life is Beautiful or The Day the Clown Cried. It is impossible to overstate how thin a razor blade Waititi is dancing, and how remarkable it is that he maintains his balance. The film never feels too sombre or too dark, but never as tasteless as something like The Book Thief.

Of course, Waititi largely manages this through cinematic sleight of hand. He avoids dwelling too heavily or for too long on the victims of fascist oppression in Nazi Germany. JoJo Beltzer finds a young Jewish girl hiding in his attic, but the film never details the horrors of the Final Solution. The characters are repeatedly confronted with the sight of bodies hanging in the public square, but the camera never really lingers on them. Instead, it focuses on JoJo’s reaction to them. The audience’s gaze is fixated on his gaze. The question isn’t how the audience feels about the horror, but how they feel about how JoJo feels.

This raises an interesting and slightly unsettling question about the recent wave of Hollywood films exploring the emergence of the modern extreme right and the resurgence of fascist ideology. Who exactly are these films for? What is the intended audience of JoJo Rabbit, and what exactly is it saying to them?

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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: Overlord

Overlord is a film that works a lot better in concept than in does in execution.

The idea of constructing a pulpy monster narrative around Nazi atrocities during the Second World War has a certain appeal to it. Not only does it evoke the sort of trashy fiction that that often existed at the margins of popular culture, but it also suggests the speculative lenses through which audiences process trauma, the way in which mass media filters horrors almost beyond human comprehension into something tangible and visceral, creating an uncanny and uncomfortable prism through which anxieties over these horrors might be channeled.

Russelling up some fun.

The horrors inflicted by the Nazis are almost impossible to fully comprehend; the systemic brutality inflicted upon those marginalised groups under their authority, the destruction that they wrought across Europe. These traumas linger in the popular memory. While the reality of those atrocities must never be forgotten or downplayed, there is something very powerful in the idea of translating that to the screen through the cinematic language of horror. Like Wolfenstein, Overlord seems to suggest an impressionistic portrait of the horrors of the period.

This approach is intriguing, and there are moments when Overlord works very well, when the film is creepy and unsettling in all the ways that it should be creepy and unsettling. However, the film suffers greatly when the script tries to impose a familiar framework on these horrors, when it runs through the checklist of storybeats expected for a major modern cinematic release. Put simply, Overlord works best when it aspires to be Captain America: The First Avenger, but as a horror film” and it works worst when it just tries to be Captain America: The First Avenger.

I want to take his face… off.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 2 (“Paper Clip”)

A real pleasure to re-team with Tony Black to round out our coverage of “the unopened file” on The X-Cast, following on from our discussions of Anasazi and The Blessing Way. And this time, it’s an even stronger line-up. The wonderful Chris Knowles is joins us for the discussion of the final part of the season-bridging trilogy.

As ever, a huge thrill to be a part of this. Anasazi, The Blessing Way and Paper Clip represent a landmark moment for The X-Files as a television show, and it’s been an honour to talk through those changes with Tony. However, Paper Clip is something special because it’s clear how much Chris loves this episode. There are few pleasures in life quite as satisfying as sitting down with somebody to talk about something they love.

I’ll be back on The X-Cast later in the season, to the point that I think the members of the Patreon may already have access to one of my own smaller side projects as part of the podcast. However, it was a delight to get to talk about three episodes that are so close to the core of what The X-Files is for a combined runtime of close to four hours.

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

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