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113. Once Upon a Time In America (#70)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.

Drawn back to New York City from a decades-long exile, retired gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson discovers that the past is not buried nearly as well as he might like. Navigating a complex web of secrets and betrayals, “Noodles” is forced to confront sins past; both his own and those dearest to him.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 70th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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59. Heat (#124)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall 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 second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Michael Mann’s Heat.

Michael Mann’s Los Angeles crime epic finds lives intersecting and overlapping in the City of Angels. At the heart of the story, career criminal Neil McCauley and driven detective Vincent Hanna find themselves on a collision course that leave countless lives shattered in their wake.

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

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Non-Review Review: The Intern

The Intern is a likeable, competent movie about likeable, competent people doing likeable, competent things.

What is most remarkable about Nancy Meyers’ latest effort is the fact that there is no real tension at play here. Sure, there’s a three-act structure; there are revelations; there are insecurities; there is crying. However, it seems like everybody in the movie wants nothing more than to get along with everybody else in the movie. Sure, there are the obligatory comedy screw-ups and miscommunication, but there’s never a real sense of risk or stakes as the movie wanders politely from one work-related crisis to another.

Nobody gets too bent out of shape...

Nobody gets too bent out of shape…

It is not an approach that makes for particularly compelling or exciting viewing. Indeed, the characters populating The Intern seem terrified about the idea of getting anybody’s blood pressure up; whether that of septuagenarian Ben Whittaker or the prickly mother of executive Jules Ostin. Everybody involved in The Intern, including the characters themselves, are professionals. Sure, mistakes happen and people mess up, but it’s not the end of the world. There is something oddly comforting in that, even if nobody watching The Intern will be on the edge of their seat.

In the end, The Intern is a lot like the eponymous character; it is steady and reliable, amicable and inoffensive. It looks smart and it knows just what to say. Everybody’s just wary about getting that heart beating a little too hard.

"You feel tense..."

“You feel tense…”

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Non-Review Review: The Family

I can’t tell you what The Family is. Not because of omerta or anything as cliché as that, but because it seems like The Family itself doesn’t know. I can describe what happens in the film, taking you through the events as they unfold on screen. I can describe the set-up. I can talk about its obvious influences. But I can’t tell you what exactly Luc Besson’s latest film actually is, because it seems like Besson himself can’t make up his mind.

Is it an action film with a quirky and unconventional set-up? Is it a gangster comedy about a former crook trying to go straight? Is it a fish-out-of-water comedy of manners about Americans arriving in northern France? Is it a pitch black comedy about a self-justifying sociopath attempting to carve out his own place in the world? Is it a high-stakes thriller about a family putting their lives on the line? Is it a weird coming-of-age drama? The Family is all of these things at various points, but it never commits to any of them.

Instead, it uses these elements to just keep circling until the running time is over.

Family values...

Family values…

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My 12 for ’12: Silver Linings Playbook & Earning Your Happy Ending

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #7

The term “uplifting” is thrown around a lot these days. Happy endings are very funny things. They seem to be a given for most major Hollywood films, and so there’s a degree of predictability to them. And yet, despite that, there’s also usually a sense that they are somewhat contrived or manipulated or otherwise the result of a rigged game. In order to raise the stakes, films will generally put our characters in peril, and create a massive sense of jeopardy for our heroes to overcome in order to secure the inevitable happy ending. However, as time goes on, we become increasingly cynical and sceptical, so those stakes get higher and higher. The ending remains guaranteed, so making the threat so much more menacing means we have to suspend greater and greater levels of disbelief in order to accept that everybody involved lived happily ever after.

Your ability to accept Silver Linings Playbook will directly correspond to your ability to accept an improbably neat happy ending. However, what distinguishes David O. Russell’s latest film from the bulk of the other “uplifting” examples of modern cinema is the fact that the stakes manage to seem far more emotional and psychological than literal and tangible, and that the characters involved feel so much more real.

silverliningsplaybook1

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Non-Review Review: Silver Linings Playbook

It’s very hard to find a movie that deals with mental illness in a compassionate way, let alone without descending into cheap emotionally-exploitive hokum. The story of Pat Solitano, coping with his “undiagnosed bipolar” disorder by returning home, Silver Linings Playbook manages to be sincere without being cheesy, to be warm without being soft and to be human without being melodramatic. Returning to his parent’s house, Pat stumbles across Tiffany, another “broken bird” dealing with her own personal issues. Silver Lining Playbook is the story of two extremely damaged people helping one another in the most human way possible.

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and Mike Deotado’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 4-5 (Review/Retrospective)

Opinion is somewhat divided on J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run. the general consensus is that started strong, but that it lost its way somewhere along, before culminating in the much-maligned One More Day arc that effectively wiped decades of character development for Peter Parker and his cast. More importantly for the author of One More Day, it also completely wiped out a large volume of his contributions to the character – which is a bit of a shame. Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man would get tied up in various crossover “event” storylines like The Other, Civil War and Back in Black, to the point where Straczynski’s run went from being driven by the author’s own ideas to being dictated by editorial whim.

The start of the writer’s work with artist Mike Deodato seems to be where Straczynski was placed on a somewhat tighter editorial leash, with Sins Past mangled in the back-and-forth between author and editorial, perhaps a sign of things to come. It’s telling that it remains one of the most controversial facets of Straczynski’s run, even today.

Is it still a blast?

Note: This review or retrospective covers Straczynski’s run with artist Mike Deodato up until the “Other” crossover event. It doesn’t take up the full fourth hardcover, but it starts with the Sins Past story arc. Just so you know.

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