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277. The Batman – This Just In (#67)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Graham Day and Niall Glynn, The 250 is a weekly 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.

So this week, a new entry: Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

Bruce Wayne is in the second year of his war on crime in Gotham, and things are not improving. Indeed, the city is thrown into anarchy when a new villain calling themselves the Riddler begins targetting city officials and threatening to unmask the city’s darkest secrets. Can Bruce survive what is coming? Can the Batman? Can Gotham?

At time of recording, it was ranked 67th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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261. Gladiator (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Stacy Grouden and Joe Griffin, 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, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

As Rome extends its dominion over the rest of the world, General Maximus Decimus Meridius dreams only of returning home to his family. However, fate has other plans. When Maximus winds up accidentally involved in a sinister conspiracy surrounding the beloved Emperor Marcus Aurelius, his entire life is thrown into chaos. Maximus finds himself abandoned and left for dead. Recovered by a slave trader, Maximus is sold to an older entertainment manager Proximo, who sees a lot of potential in “the Spaniard.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 44th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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233. Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales) (#178)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Áine O’Connor, The 250 is a weekly 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.

So this week, Damián Szifron’s Relatos salvajes.

Six stories from modern day Argentina explore themes of violence and revenge, of anger and aggression, and of what happens when people stop behaving in the way that society expects them to and start indulging their wilder impulses.

At time of recording, it was ranked 178th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “Doctor Who” Is Less “Woke” Than It’s Been In Decades…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With rumours that Jodie Whittaker may be departing Doctor Who, it seems an appropriate time to look back her time on the show. In particular, the weird political furore around it.

Under producer Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who has been criticised for being “too woke” and “too politically correct.” This is interesting, because – if anything – the show is more conservative than it has been at any point since the mid-eighties. Under Chibnall, Doctor Who believes that “the systems aren’t the problem” and is openly deferential to authority. It frequently rejects the idea of radical systemic change, instead suggesting that the status quo is something to be preserved rather than disturbed.

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

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (Review)

“Have you had work done?”

“You’re one to talk.”

Like Resolution before it, Revolution of the Daleks is a special that largely works through momentum and spectacle, while failing to cohere into anything greater than the sum of its separate parts.

The cobbled together Dalek casing from Resolution is a major plot point in Revolution of the Daleks, but it also plays as metaphor for the episode itself. Even as early as The Woman Who Fell to Earth, it was clear that the Chibnall era did not share the same strengths as the Davies and Moffat eras before it. It is impossible to imagine Chibnall constructing a holiday special featuring characters bantering around a couple of generic sets. If he did, it would probably resemble The Timeless Children more than Twice Upon a Time, with characters just expositing at one another.

Insert political joke here.

Instead, Chibnall tends to construct his more successful episodes around propulsion and momentum; he likes to have multiple characters doing things simultaneously, while constantly throwing new elements into the mix to maintain some sense of forward movement. Revolution of the Daleks is not so much an episode as a collection of familiar Doctor Who elements thrown into a blender with even more familiar elements thrown on top. There’s a frantic sense of “… and then…” plotting to the episode, as Chibnall rhymes off any story coming into his head.

The result is an episode that is messier and more overstuffed than Resolution. Indeed, Resolution might have somewhat bungled the eponymous reconciliation between Ryan and his father, but at least it understood that this relationship was meant to be both the heart of the episode and the pay-off to a thread running through the season. In contrast, Revolution seems like a bunch of stuff happening incredibly quickly as the stakes frantically escalate and the story switches before the audience can get bored of it.

To be fair, everybody looks at Christmas leftovers the same way.

Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t really work. After all, despite all the stuff that happens in the episode, it is hard to pinpoint what it is actually supposed to be “about.” There are certainly scenes and developments that feel like they should be important, but they never really feel like organic evolution from one scene to the next. That said, Revolution of the Dalek manages to avoid falling completely flat. The sense of constant escalation prevents anything from collapsing into itself. Revolution of the Daleks is certainly more Spyfall, Part I than Spyfall, Part II.

At the same time, it is hardly revolutionary.

“It’s hard to keep track of how many stories this is referencing.”

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Non-Review Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy is misconceived on just about every possible level.

On the most superficial and surface level, Hillbilly Elegy is the most cynical form of Oscar bait. It is a vehicle for actors Amy Adams and Glenn Close to take a run at awards season, turning the inner dial on their performances up to eleven playing absurd caricatures of complex and nuanced human beings. There are moments when, entirely divorced from its form or substance, Hillbilly Elegy veers into the realm of self-parody, as Adams musters every dramatic bone in her body to shout “bad dog!” with as much conviction as possible, as if every moment could be an Oscar clip.

“Looks like we got ourselves a good old-fashioned act-off.”

It isn’t that Close and Adams are bad performers. Indeed, there’s a credible argument to be made that – on some level – Hillbilly Elegy might be “worth it” if it eventually allows Adams to take home what will effectively be a career award. However, everything in Hillbilly Elegy is a staggeringly ill-judged combination of heightened melodrama and earnest sincerity. Ron Howard directs the film with a solemn profundity that suggests he is peeling back the layers of the American heartland, as if viewing the film through the lens of Terrence Malick via the Russo Brothers.

However, underneath the surface, there is something more insidious and uncomfortable at place in Hillbilly Elegy. The film is based on the autobiography of J.D. Vance, a book that became a breakout sensation in 2016. The arrival of the book coincided with the election of Donald Trump, and so it became a cornerstone of a subgenre of literature built around understanding Trump voters – the kind of soul-searching that led to fawning profiles of white nationalists in The New York Times. (While Vance characterises himself as “a nationalist”, the film overtly avoids his politics.)

Ad-Vancing.

This context perhaps explains the assurance and self-importance of Hillbilly Elegy, which at every turn presents itself as a window into a different culture – the idea of the “forgotten” America or the “left behind” America. Unfortunately, it also explains the most horrific aspect of the film, the way in which Hillbilly Elegy treats its characters as exhibits in some grotesque zoo. While adapted from a book written by a character rooted in that community, Hillbilly Elegy often feels like an anthropological study constructed from second- or third-hand accounts.

However, the movie’s most egregious fault might be how profoundly it misunderstands Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

This Cagney and Lacey reboot is really something.

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New Escapist Column! On “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and How “Borat” Has Changed Over 14 Years…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm last week, it seemed an interesting opportunity to take a look at the return of the Kazakh caricature, and examine how the character had shifted in the fourteen years since the release of Borat.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is the way in which it offers a much more conventional structure – and even character arc – than the original film. It’s a strange choice, particularly in the context of the film’s mockumentary sensibility and the outlandish nature of the character. However, it also illustrates how much the world has changed since the release of the original film. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm realises that the world has changed, so maybe Borat should as well.

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

Non-Review Review: Irresistible

Irresistible is a movie that largely exists to demonstrate that nobody hates the political left like the political left.

Jon Stewart’s second feature as writer and director essentially positions itself as a post-2016 political satire. Stewart’s former correspondent Steve Carell is cast as Democratic campaign manager Gary Zimmer, who is still nursing the wounds of the 2016 election. The film features two short table-setting prologues, the second of which finds Zimmer lying in bed on November 9th, 2016 as the news media plays back his unearned confidence in the face of the earth-shattering Donald Trump victory. There’s a sense in which Zimmer needs to be humbled.

Window into a broken system.

A couple of years later, both Zimmer and the party clearly still smarting from that humiliating defeat, a video comes across Zimmer’s desk. Recorded at a town hall in Deerlaken, Wisonsin, it shows a military veteran standing up for the rights of immigrants and minorities to a town administration desperate to lock them out of welfare. Colonel Jack Hastings appears to be the complete package, a white rural farmer with genuinely progressive politics. “He’s a Democrat,” Zimmer insists. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Stewart tries to position Irresistible as a biting social commentary on the state of the modern Democratic party and its awkward relationship with the white rural voters who are undergoing incredible political hardship as a result of a series of global recessions, and who feel increasingly disconnected from the political establishment. It’s an old theme that belongs to a rich cinematic tradition including films like Mister Smith Goes to Washington, and it should still resonate these days.

Making Hastings while the sun shines.

Unfortunately, Stewart’s satire is unfocused and tonally unbalanced. It’s never clear exactly what the film is saying, beyond expressing an understandable frustration with the establishment of the political left. However, the film’s anger is clearest when it is singularly focused as to imply a vacuum that simply doesn’t exist. More than that, Stewart occasionally seems to invest in the some sort of nostalgic and romantic fetishisation of the rural community that he so scathing ridicules in the political establishment.

This issue reflects a broader problem with the movie. Irresistible is tonally erratic at the best of times, alternating between a biting satire set in a world that is at least meant to be recognisable and a more cartoonish comedy populated by outlandish science-fiction elements. Stewart can’t seem to hone in on what Irresistible is trying to say about the political system, beyond the simple fact that political types are the absolute worst.

Dems the breaks.

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New Escapist Column! On the “The Hunt” as Empty Provocation…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine last week. This is one has been a while in the making, since at least August last year.

The Hunt was massive controversial before anybody had actually watched the finished cut of the film. It attracted the ire of Fox News and, through that, Donald Trump. Universal pushed the film back, eventually settling on a mid-March release date, with the advertising leaning heavily into that controversy as a selling point. As such, it’s impossible to discuss The Hunt without discussing the maelstrom around it. This means that the movie itself feels like a disappointment and a damp squib. Its potent political content is nothing more than empty provocation, its biting social commentary just an elaborate troll. The Hunt has nothing to say, which is particularly disappointing as it is sandwiched between the genuinely political provocations of The Invisible Man and Promising Young Woman.

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

171. Knives Out – This Just In (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Alex Towers and Luke Dunne, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

The apparent suicide of noted mystery author Harlan Thrombley attracts the attention of consulting gentleman detective Benoit Blanc. Interviewing the deceased man’s family, Blanc finds a nest of vipers hiding in plain sight and comes to suspect that Harlan has been victim of murder most foul.

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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