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141. Escape Plan 2: Hades – This Just In (-#100)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Babu Patel and Giovanna Rampazzo, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 100 worst movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Steven C. Miller’s Escape Plan 2: Hades.

At time of recording, it was ranked 100th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is essentially a high concept shorn of any sense of authorship.

Lisbeth Salander is one of the very few breakout fictional characters of the twenty-first century, a concept that immediately latched on to the public imagination following the publication of Stieg Larsson’s Män som hatar kvinnor in 2005. Salander was a character who seemed to speak to the turbulent new century, a digitally native avenging angel who unleashed her wrath against a violent and misogynist establishment. Salander seemed to speak immediately and viscerally to her moment.

Phoning it in.

A Swedish language film was released four years later, featuring a career-defining performance from Noomi Rapace, which seemed to be enough to singlehandedly assure the young actor an English-language career. Hollywood quickly noticed and immediately commissioned a remake that would be directed by David Fincher, and which would go on to be nominated for five awards. Rooney Mara would effectively launch her career with a Best Actress nomination for her performance of Salander.

All of these are incredible accomplishments for a character and concept that in someways seemed clichéd and nineties. Män som hatar kvinnor was the kind of serial killer narrative that has been ubiquitous in the nineties, but largely supplanted by terrorist stories in the new millennium. As an archetype, Salander was very much of a piece with cyberpunk hackers with which Hollywood had clumsily flirted in movies like Hackers or The Matrix or Johnny Mnemonic.

Snow escape.

Salander was elevated by two things. The first was a prescient understanding of the appeal of a feminine avenging angel dismantling systems of misogynist oppression. If anything, Salander seemed ahead of her time, and should be perfectly pitched for the #metoo moment. However, the other important aspect of Salander was a strong sense of authorship and craft. Noomi Rapace embodied the character in the Swedish-language original, and David Fincher helped to elevate pulpy material to top-tier filmmaking in the American reimagining.

All of this makes The Girl in the Spider’s Web an interesting , if deeply unsatisfying case study of what happens when anything resembling a distinct creative voice is ripped away from Salander and she is stuck in a much more bland and conventional film. The results are deeply frustrating, but affirm the level of talent involved in the character’s earlier adventures on page and screen.

Everything burns.

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The X-Files – Kitsunegari (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Kitsunegari hits on a lot of fifth season anxieties for The X-Files.

The episode is rather clearly a sequel to a beloved third season installment, featuring a returning monster of the week for the first time since Tooms brought back Victor Eugene Tooms. In this case, Kitsunegari is built around Robert Patrick Modell, the mind-controlling psychopath from Vince Gilligan’s first script as a staff writer. Given the level of Gilligan’s skill, the affection for the episode, and the charm of actor Robert Wisden, Kitsunegari really should be a “can’t miss” script for the series.

Painting the town...

Painting the town…

However, Kitsunegari proves to be a surprisingly joyless experience. The script hinges on incredibly coincidence and contrivance, everything feels a little too familiar, and even Robert Wisden seems relegated to a small supporting role. (It is telling he earns an “and” credit instead of heading the guest cast.) Kitsunegari has a host of memorable set-pieces and effective visuals, but it feels curiously hollow. It feels like a script going through the motions, rather than trying to say something new or intriguing.

Then again, there is a sense that this is the point. Kitsunegari plays beautifully as a self-aware critique of soulless sequels, of half-hearted follow-ups and cash-ins on popular monsters and villains. Kitsunegari is almost an ingenious parody of these conventions, teasing the viewer with what it might look like if The X-Files began to eat itself. It teases the audience with a trashy sequel to a classic episode, and then delivers exactly that. Kitsunegari does not just demonstrate the law of diminishing returns, it practically revels in it.

Pushing the Pusher...

Pushing the Pusher…

After all, Pusher was an episode about a man with complete control of his own story. Robert Patrick Modell was able to change the world using nothing more than mere words, crafting a new identity and persona for himself, casting himself in role of a criminal mastermind pursued by dogged investigators. It is no wonder that Kitsunegari portrays Modell as exhausted and strung out. Kitsunegari is essentially a story about how Modell has lost control of the narrative, how it has begun to control him. In a way, he gives voice to the same concerns that haunt The Post-Modern Prometheus.

Of course, all this postmodern self-awareness is ingenious, but it still leaves one sizable problem with Kitsunegari. Kitsunegari is so effective at mimicking a soulless sequel that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The result is a well-constructed and clever little episode, but one that is not particularly enjoyable or fun.

"I'm blue, dabba-dee-dabba-di."

“I’m blue, dabba-dee-dabba-di.”

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Non-Review Review: Woman in Black – Angel of Death

Horror sequels are notoriously difficult beasts. Much like comedy sequels, there’s the inevitable conflict between what the audience wants and what the audience has seen before. If you plan on replicating the jump scares too faithfully, why not watch the original? If you want to do something fresh, why bother sticking the name on the front? It is an interesting challenge facing film makers, and it’s something that shows. It is very hard to think of a horror sequel that competes on the same level as the original, let alone surpasses it.

Woman in Black: Angel of Death finds itself stuck in that trap. The original Woman in Black was very much a classic Hammer Horror film, a movie more about suggestion and scale than blood and guts. Never afraid to reinforce a jump scare with an orchestra string section, there was something quite endearing and old-fashioned about the way that Woman in Black conducted itself. It was an affectionate throwback to a style of horror largely forgotten in this day and age.

"Gee... I wonder what could possibly be in this creepy basement at this hour of the night..."

“Gee… I wonder what could possibly be in this creepy basement at this hour of the night…”

Given the success of Woman in Black, a sequel was inevitable. However, Angel of Death faces a lot of the issues that tend to plague horror sequels – cast attrition, a sense of familiarity, a sense that most of the best tricks have already been used. To be fair, Angel of Death holds itself together reasonably well for its first two acts. There are creaky moments, and a sense that the movie is trying to hit too many familiar notes. However, the script comes off the rails in the third act, as the film stops trying to imitate its predecessor and attempts to offer something new.

Sadly, the third act simply doesn’t work, bouncing between an air field and a supernatural hostage crisis. The result is that Angel of Death collapses in on itself – leading to the sense that this is a rather disappointing sequel.

Sadly, Chris deBurgh has yet to provide a theme song for the series. Maybe next time?

Sadly, Chris deBurgh has yet to provide a theme song for the series. Maybe next time?

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Non-Review Review: Anchorman 2 – The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is perhaps twenty minutes too long, and indulges in a little bit too much of the nostalgia common in comedy sequels during its final act, but it’s a movie with its heart in the right place. More message-driven than its direct predecessor, and much more of an ensemble piece, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is an enjoyable example of the sorts of cringe comedy that made the original such a cult classic. While it might not measure up perfectly, it ranks quite highly among the annals of comedy sequels.

Jumping for joy?

Jumping for joy?

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Watch! New Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Trailer!

Comedy sequels are, as a rule, a dodgy proposition. After all, you generally assume that the first film – if was successful – had really mined the premise for all it was worth. There’s a tendency to turn comedy sequels into remakes starring the same cast, as there’s an understandable reluctance to meddle too heavily with a successful formula and cast. So I’ll admit that I am a little nervous about Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Still, the trailer looks promising, and updating the characters to the eighties (complete with obligatory Journey soundtrack) could provide enough of a shake-up to keep things interesting. It helps that the original film has – I’d argue – one of the great comedy ensembles, and I trust Ferrell, Carrell, Rudd and Koechner to keep the sequel fresh. It looks worth a shot at least, and it certainly reminds me of what I liked so much about the original Anchorman without seeming like too much of a retread.

Check it out below.

Looking at it Sideways: 2012, The Year of Unconventional Franchise Narratives…

By now I think we’ve all become quite familiar with the cycle of Hollywood movie franchises. I’m not inherently opposed to the concept – I think that Sturgeon’s Law applies at least as much to original and independent films as it does to big-budget franchise films. The prospect of movie sequels, reboots, prequels and remakes isn’t a new thing, after all. Hollywood has always had a tendency to emulate financially successful movies, finding a way to exploit the movie property to maximise the profit off the back of it. It’s an inherently commercial prospect, but virtually any form of mass media must be in order to be viable. However, I’ve been fascinated with how the Hollywood franchise train seems to be working this year – it seems like we’ve been getting stuff that’s a little different than the conventional reboots, sequels and remakes.

It’s a whole other universe out there…

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