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110. L.A. Confidential – Christmas 2018 (#107)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Phil Bagnall, 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 Christmas treat. Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential.

In fifties Los Angeles, three very different police officers discover their lines of inquiry converging as they uncover a deep and sprawling web of corruption and inequity.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 107th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys is a superb piece of work, a retro seventies buddy action comedy with charm to spare.

The Nice Guys is dripping with period detail. The opening tracking shot swoops behind the iconic “Hollywood” sign, still trapped in a state of decay. The characters wear brightly coloured suits. The soundtrack is populated by recognisable disco and funk songs. There are repeated references to President Richard Nixon. Characters smoke like troopers and drive around in open-top convertibles while somehow managing an unhealthy combination of sideburns, stubble and moustaches. In short, the film is set in the seventies, and the audience won’t forget it.

Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Cigarette-Smoking Man.

However, The Nice Guys has a much deeper retro charm. It harks back to the sort of buddy action films that have become a rarity these days, the story of two lovable klutzes who wander into a life-or-death mystery that gradually unravels over the course of two hours. The stakes are charmingly low-key; there is no city destroyed, no threat on a planetary scale. The characters are broadly drawn archetypes, but neither have be chosen or fated. There are at most a couple of lives resting on their shoulders, their own included.

The Nice Guy harks back to a very nineties buddy action comedy aesthetic, demonstrating a nostalgia that is more than skin deep, but which is nonetheless endearing.

Board to death.

Board to death.

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Non-Review Review: The Water Diviner

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

The Water Diviner is a solid directorial début for actor Russell Crowe, a well-intentioned and relatively under-explored story that occasionally wanders into clumsy melodrama.

Crowe works both in front and behind the camera, directing himself as a father who embarks on a journey across the world to bring his lost sons home. Set in the wake of the First World War, The Water Diviner charts Joshua Connor’s effort to recover the remains his three sons who perished in the battle for Gallipoli. Travelling from the Australia to Turkey, Connor finds himself fighting against bureaucracy and civil strife as he tries to keep the promise to bring his children back to home soil.

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It is a fascinating a compelling story. Crowe is a reliable leading man, imbuing Connor with a sense of humanity and relatability that helps to anchor a somewhat spotty screenplay. Crowe seems to trust his cast a great deal, affording them room to work and never rushing them along. However, he also seems somewhat sceptical of the audience. The Water Diviner is packed with repetitive flashbacks and awkward montages designed to impart information that the audience has already grasped.

The result is a rather uneven film. Much like its title character, it seems like The Water Diviner works best when it trusts its instincts; not when it tries to second-guess itself.

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Non-Review Review: Noah

Noah is very hard to process. It’s very much an adaptation of its source material – very clearly a biblical epic that draws from The Book of Genesis in terms of tone and mood and imagery. It’s a story that is harrowing and horrifying, couched in allegory and metaphor and built around an idea of divinity that is difficult to comprehend.

At points, Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic seems to move in dream-time; the imagery is abstract, the scope almost impossible to comprehend; time and scale are conveyed through disjointed slideshows that invite the viewer to composite them together, creating a sense that this is more abstract than conventional storytelling.

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Like The Fountain before its, Noah is a story that seems to exist without place and time. Witnessing the devastation that mankind has done to the world around it, it seems like our protagonists have stumbled into a post-apocalyptic wasteland with burnt trolleys and abandoned pipes scattered across scorched Earth.

Past, present and future co-mingle, creating a sense that this is a world without time as we might conventionally understand it. After all, this isn’t the real world. This is a story. The internal logic is prone to shift like uncertain ground, the viewer never quite sure if they’ve properly found their footing. Aronofsky’s vision is at times frustratingly oblique, but more than occasionally brilliant.

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It captures a lot more of The Book of Genesis than most of its critics would concede – in mood and tone as much as literal interpretation. At the same time, it makes a pretty compelling example of why big crowd-pleasing biblical epics don’t tend to draw from The Book of Genesis, favouring later – less difficult and polarising – biblical material.

It’s very hard to imagine Noah as a commercial exercise – to recognise a group that will respond to a story that is willing to be so bold in tackling its subject material. And yet, at the same time, it is an absolutely intriguing piece of cinema.

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Superman: The Animated Series – Blasts From the Past, Parts 1 & 2 (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Blasts from the Past feels like it should be a better episode. After all, Superman’s relationship with his Kryptonian heritage should be fodder for good drama. If you read Superman as a parable for the American Dream – the story of an orphan from far away who comes to America and makes something of himself – it’s always fascinating to look at that story from the other direction. What are Superman’s ties to Krypton, a planet destroyed before he could speak? Does he define himself as Kryptonian?

Some versions of the character’s mythology suggest that his outfit is Kryptonian armour. Most recent takes on the character suggest that the famous “S-shield” is the emblem of the House of El. There are a lot of interesting questions about how an alien from a dead world who has become the protector of Earth must see himself. Is he one or other, both, or neither? Most interpretations seem to opt for “both”, although the suggestion is that Kal-El leans more heavily towards Earth.

Blasts from the Past should be a vehicle to explore this, bringing back two Kryptonian characters and allowing Superman to interact with them. At the very least, perhaps it could be an exploration of how much a childhood on Earth changed Superman. Instead, it feels like a rather bland rehash of Superman II, just with some names changed.

Red sky in the... well, eternity, I guess...

Red sky in the… well, eternity, I guess…

 

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Superman: The Animated Series – Last Son of Krypton (Parts 1, 2 & 3) (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

After the success of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series must have seemed like the most logical choice. Bruce Timm had already assembled a team of writers and production personnel who had collaborated to produce one of the finest distillations of one of DC’s most iconic characters. Giving Timm a chance to work with Superman seems only reasonable. After all, Superman is a character that Warner Brothers has always had a bit of difficulty exploiting to his maximum potential.

However, Superman is not quite Batman. Despite the fact that he’s older and (at the very least) just as iconic, Superman hasn’t been quite as popular as Batman for quite some time. He doesn’t have the same depth of supporting characters, and his iconography isn’t as thoroughly integrated into popular consciousness as that of Batman. Superman didn’t have a live-action technicolour sixties television show to introduce an entire generation to the Parasite, Metallo, the Kryptonite Man or many others.

Opening with a three-part pilot, it’s immediately clear that Timm knows that Superman is a very different character than Batman, and that he can’t simply apply the same formula which made Batman: The Animated Series such a high-profile success. From the opening episode of Last Son of Krypton, it’s clear that Superman: The Animated Series is going to be a very different animal.

Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!

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Non-Review Review: Broken City

Broken City seems like an ironic title for a movie that seems to take so much pride in being functional. Broken City is a political investigative thriller, a subgenre that has produced any number of genuinely classic films. However, while Broken City doesn’t really excel in any true sense, it does take a great deal of care in making sure that everything works, that everything is assembled with enough care, and that there’s no real discordant note to be heard. Broken City isn’t a very good film on its own merits, but it manages to avoid being an overly bad one.

Broken marriage...

Broken marriage…

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Non-Review Review: Les Misérables

It’s hard not to admire Les Misérables. It’s the first honest-to-goodness entirely sincere and mostly unironic big budget musical that we’ve seen released in quite some time. While song and dance will always be a part of the movies (The Muppets, for example, carrying many a dainty tune last year), there’s something quite impressive about seeing a music as epic and as iconic as Les Misérables carried across to the big screen. The stage musical became something of a cultural phenomenon on the West End, and Tom Hooper does an effective job of transitioning from stage to screen – even if he doesn’t consistently capitalise on the format shift.

There are some fundamental problems. The second half is a little too awkwardly paced and too disjointed to come together as well as it should, and Hooper seems to have a great deal pitching the right amount of camp (and humour) for an Oscar-bait musical about the aftermath of the French revolution. However, if you can look past those problems, the opening half is a superbly staged musical and the performances are impressive. Including the much maligned Russell Crowe, who might – hear me out – be the best thing about the film.

Sing when you're winning... or at least nominated...

Sing when you’re winning… or at least nominated…

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Watch! Behind the Scenes on the Man With the Iron Fists!

Universal Pictures Ireland just sent over this featurette looking behind the scenes at RZA’s upcoming action film, The Man With The Iron Fists. It certainly looks like an interesting genre mash-up, with Russell Crowe, RZA and Lucy Liu in front of the camera and Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth working with RZA behind the scenes. I’m not quite sure what to make of it at this point, but I am just hoping for a pulpy action film. Anyway, give the featurette a look and let me know what you make of it.

Watch! Live Singing in Les Misérables…

Universal Pictures Ireland just sent over this behind-the-scenes look at Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. The film is opening here in January 2013, and I’m actually quite curious to see how it pans out. We’ve had juke box musicals, and modern movies like The Muppets incorporating songs, but there really haven’t been too many legitimate old-school-style musicals in the past number of years. Even Sweeney Todd seemed remarkably subversive. I’m fascinated with this attempt to play the genre straight, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical in a cinema. I can’t remember a large-scale musical like this, with a lot of pundits suggesting the genre has been relegated to history.

I actually find this snippet quite insightful, because I would have assumed – for purely practical purposes – the film would have been shot with actors recording the songs separately to filming the scenes. It also illustrates just how skilfully Hooper has put all this together – even offering an off-hand reference to a tune from the musical, Hugh Jackman has a fantastic singing voice. Anyway, check it out below.