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New Escapist Column! On “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” as a Romantic Comedy…

I published a new column at The Escapist today. With Venom: Let There Be Carnage releasing in Irish cinemas this weekend, it seemed like as good an opportunity as any to take a look at the film.

Like its predecessor, Let There Be Carnage isn’t really a functional superhero movie, at least in the sense that modern audiences understand the genre. It’s lumpy, it’s irrational, it’s more interested in immediate thrills than world building. However, despite this, Let There Be Carnage is a surprisingly effective romantic comedy. It’s built around many of the same conventions and adheres to many of the same beats, telling a heart-warming story of an alien symbiote and its parasite.

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

Non-Review Review: The Last Letter From Your Lover

The Last Letter from Your Lover is an adaptation of Jojo Moynes’ breakout romantic novel of the same name, and it very much feels like a cinematic adaptation of a beloved novel.

The basic premise of The Last Letter from Your Lover is a nested love story. While working on a feature about another subject, an intrepid journalist named Ellie Haworth finds a mysterious love letter. This love letter suggests a secret affair in sixties high society. The letters are clearly addressed to Jennifer Stirling, a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a wealthy industrialist, who finds herself navigating her own past following an accident that leaves her with amnesia.

How I Met Your Lover.

It’s a solid set-up for a romantic drama, with The Last Letter from Your Lover paralleling both Ellie and Jennifer in their investigations into Jennifer’s mysterious past in an effort to explore and investigate the sordid affair that potentially could derail Jennifer’s entire life. The Last Letter from Your Lover benefits from two charming lead performances from Felicity Jones as Ellie and Shailene Woodley as Jennifer, along with strong direction from Augustine Frizzell.

Unfortunately, The Last Letter from Your Lover never feels like a convincing screen romance, but instead a shadow of a much more engaging love story on the page.

Letter be.

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222. Fa yeung nin wah (In the Mood for Love) – Chinese New Year/Valentine’s Day 2020 (#239)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Stacy Grouden 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, a Valentine’s and Chinese New Year treat. Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

Sixties Hong Kong is in a state of transition. Lives overlap in the densely populated city, as the Chan and Chow families move into the same building. Over time, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow come to suspect that their spouses are having an illicit affair. This act of betrayal draws the two strangers closer to one another, even if neither seems entirely sure where this intersection will take them.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 239th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Mulan (2020)

Niki Caro’s Mulan is an interesting beast.

As a piece of production, it’s impressive. It lands neatly among the best of Disney’s live action adaptations of its classic animated films, simply by virtue of its willingness to offer something new. It avoids the limp and slavish devotion of films like The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, even if it never quite transcends its origins like Pete’s Dragon. It is vibrant and dynamic film, one that leans into what is possible in live action rather than animation, with cinematographer Mandy Walker ensuring that colours really pop off the screen.

Claws for concern

However, there’s also something slightly frustrating about Mulan. It often feels like the changes from the animated film were not made with the intention of improving the film or finding a new angle, but instead to render Mulan more palatable to a targetted Chinese audience. After all, for all the attention paid to the film’s video-on-demand release, its box office prospects have always had one eye on China. The result is a film that feels more cautious and more conservative than an animated film produced over two decades ago.

Mulan is clean and stylish, but feels a little too calculated and sterile to be its best self.

A prime cut?

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193. Gigli (-#19)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Louise Bruton and Jenn Gannon, 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.

This time, Martin Brest’s Gigli.

Larry Gigli is a low-level Los Angeles gangster who finds himself assigned the seemingly menial task of kidnapping and holding the brother of a district attorney hostage in the hopes of helping notorious criminal Starkman avoid prosecution. However, this seemingly simple assignment goes awry when a mysterious woman calling herself Ricki shows up, and Gigli finds himself warming to the young developmentally impaired man that he has taken under his wing.

At time of recording, it was ranked 19th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Palm Springs

On the surface, Palm Springs is instantly recognisable as a genre-savvy update of the classic Groundhog Day template for the twenty-first century.

The basic plot finds two young adults – Nyles and Sarah – trapped living the same day over and over and over again. There is no escape from this nightmare, which finds the pair constantly reliving the wedding of Sarah’s sister Tala. As befitting the more modern media-literate approach to these sorts of stories, Palm Springs joins Nyles at a point where he has already been trapped in the loop for an extraordinarily long amount of time. He is already as familiar with the rules and limitations of this sort of narrative as any audience member who watched Groundhog Day on loop.

Making a splash.

This level of self-awareness in a story is potentially dangerous, encouraging ironic detachment. It’s very each for stories about these sorts of genre-savvy protagonists to feel more like plot devices than actual characters, particularly when operating within constructs that audiences only recognise from other films. “It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard of,” Nyles casually explains to Sarah early in the film. Sarah responds, aghast, “That I might have heard of?”

There are certainly moments when Palm Springs feels like it might be just a little too knowing and a little too arch, its own story too consciously framed in terms of familiar narrative devices. Most notably, even though the film is not directly named, one of the big emotional beats in Palm Springs seems to be lifted directly from Jurassic Park. Released the same year as Groundhog Day, it exists within the same nostalgic framework and was just as defining for an entire generation of movie-goers. Moments like that feel just a little bit too heavy-handed.

Some “him” time.

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182. Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) – Ani-May 2020 (#134)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, 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 year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime May, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta and Hauru no ugoku shiro. We’ll also be covering a bonus on a recent entry on the list next week, Naoko Yamada’s Koe no katachi.

This week, the second part of the double bill, Hauru no ugoku shiro, Miyazaki’s first film after the breakout success of Spirited Away.

Chance encounters with both a mysterious young wizard and spiteful old witch find Sophie Hatter cursed. The eighteen-year-old young woman finds herself trapped in the body of a ninety-year-old crone. Never one to be defeated or outwitted, Sophie embarks on an adventure to lift the curse that takes her into the wilderness and to the heart of a majestic ambulatory castle inhabited by a fascinating bunch of misfits. As war simmers on the horizon, Sophie finds herself drawn to the temperamental but sensitive young magician Howl, but can they ever find peace?

At time of recording, it was ranked 134th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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170. Before Sunset – “Two Guys Die Alone 2020” (#236)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jay Coyle, 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, a Valentine’s treat. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset.

Finishing up his book tour in Paris, Jessie crosses paths once again with Celine. With a little over an hour before Jessie has to catch a flight back to the United States, the pair take a stroll through Paris. As they do, the nine years since their last encounter fades away, allowing them to reminisce about what might have been and consider what might yet be.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 236th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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159. Gone With the Wind – Winter of ’39 (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, The 250 is a fortnightly 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, Victor Fleming, George Cukor and Sam Wood’s Gone With the Wind.

A tale of revolution, romance and redemption set against the backdrop of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind remains one of the most sweeping epics ever produced by the studio system. The decades-long love affair between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler unfolds against the backdrop of the fall and rise of Scarlett’s family fortune.

At time of recording, it was ranked 165th on the list of the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Last Christmas

Last Christmas certainly has its heart in the right place.

On paper, there’s a lot to recommend Last Christmas. Paul Feig is one of the most reliable comedic directors working today, and his work on films like Spy and A Simple Favour deserve consideration among the best comedies of the decade. Emilia Clarke is coming off an extended run as one of the two primary stars of genuine cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones, and has proven herself a likable romantic lead even in solid-if-unremarkable projects like Me Before You. Tony Golding has charisma to burn, as demonstrated by his supporting turn in Crazy Rich Asians.

Things are looking up.

Unfortunately, none of this really coheres as well as it should. Given the talent involved, this comedy should go down a festive treat. While it’s hardly a lump of coal, it is decidedly underwhelming. The problem isn’t a lack of surprises. After all, Last Christmas aspires to comfort rather than novelty. The problem is that Last Christmas is built around the assumption that it has the perfect festive surprise waiting for its eager and bright-eyed audience members to unwrap. Unfortunately, it vastly over-estimates how much some wrapping paper and bow can disguise a familiar outline.

Last Christmas feels far too pedestrian and far too predictable for what it is trying to do. There’s a potentially interesting premise here, but Last Christmas never really tries. It gives up the ghost too early.

Elf help.

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