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268. Incendies (#110)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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, Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies.

Following the death of their mother Nawal, twins Jeanne and Simon find themselves dealing with dark family secrets bubbling to the surface. Nawal’s will includes two instructions for her children, to find both their father and their long-lost sibling. While Simon dismisses this last request as another manipulation from an emotionally-distant mother, Jeanne embarks on an epic journey to trace her family’s history and perhaps change its future.

At time of recording, it was ranked 110th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “Candyman” is About Art About Trauma…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film and the larger franchise.

Much has been written in recent years about the recent explosion of African American horror, and the relationship between that horror and the very real trauma experienced by that community. What’s particularly interesting about Candyman is that the movie is very much engaged with that debate. In an era where so many movies and television shows purport to be “about trauma”, Candyman is explicitly a movie about art about horror, and the thorny questions that stem from that relationship.

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

New Escapist Column! On “Guardians of the Galaxy” as the MCU’s Best Exploration of Loss…

I published a new column at The Escapist yesterday. With all the talk about how so much of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe is about “loss”, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not a machine that is designed to deal with concepts like loss head on. After all, most of its major departures were down to contract negotiations rather than narrative priorities. Characters are often resurrected, and losses are often temporary. This is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy so compelling. Director James Gunn understands that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a space into which the audience and characters escape to avoid dealing with loss, even if it haunts them still.

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

210. Hugo – Summer of Scorsese, w/ The Movie Palace (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Carl Sweeney, 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, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season with a crossover with The Movie Palace, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, New York, New York, Goodfellas, Kundun, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Hugo Cabret is a twelve-year-old kid living and hiding in the industrial spaces behind a central Paris railway station. Recovering from the loss of his father, Hugo is desperate to repair the damaged automaton that is the last connection that he shares with his deceased parent. The mystery leads Hugo to a strange and lonely old man operating a kiosk, and into a whole new world.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Escapist Column! On “Rogue One” as “Star Wars” for the Twenty-First Century…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine a little while ago, looking at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Like most films, the original Star Wars was a product of its time. It spoke to simmering tensions and traumas related to the late seventies, from lingering atomic anxieties to the horrors of the Vietnam War. However, a lot of time has passed since the original trilogy, and our cultural anxieties have changed over the intervening years. Since the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney, the Star Wars franchise has been fixated and focused on the original trilogy. However, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the only film to make an effort to ask what those tropes and conventions mean moved to the present day.

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

“When I Left Earth”: The Simple Childhood Trauma of “Guardians of the Galaxy”

This Saturday, to mark the release of Captain Marvel, I will be discussing Guardians of the Galaxy on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first. You can listen to the podcast here.

Twenty-one films in, there is a solid argument to be made that Guardians of the Galaxy ranks among the very best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Variety has consistently ranked Guardians of the Galaxy the best film in the shared universe on its own frequently updated list. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film is ranked joint sixth (but on the fourth tier) of Marvel movies in terms of review aggregation. On a list that included non-Marvel-Studios-properties, MetaCritic ranked the film as the fifth best of the top fifty Marvel films released in the twenty-first century. It landed in the same position on a similar list compiled by Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian. It ranked second on the list compiled by The Independent. Although such a metric is hardly absolute and academic, it is also one of the longest-enduring Marvel films on the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 movies of all-time.

Similarly, the film endures in popular culture. It is arguably one of the most influential blockbusters of the past decade. It was notably the first film to have its soundtrack top the Billboard album charts without an original song on it. Although directors like Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater had defined the “jukebox soundtrack”, Guardians of the Galaxy turned it into a standard for blockbuster films. Somewhat ironically, given how James Gunn’s career has since developed, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that seems like the template for the modern wave of blockbusters like Suicide Squad or even Kong: Skull Island. These are massive tentpole films that consciously wear their weirdness on their sleeve.

At the time, this seemed strange. Guardians of the Galaxy was a fringe property before the film was released, largely unknown to audiences outside of comics. The film does not even adapt the “classic” team line-up, relegating them to a cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Instead, the team depicted in Guardians of the Galaxy was drawn from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s well-loved but under-appreciated twenty-first century run. More than that, the film was to be helmed by a director who had developed his trade working at Troma and whose career included oddities like Slither or Super. The star was a supporting actor on a well-liked-but-not-breakout sitcom. The biggest names were voicing a talking raccoon and “his personal houseplant-slash-muscle.”

As such, the film’s status as a breakout hit and cultural phenomenon seems strange. What is it about Guardians of the Galaxy that endures, that elevates it in the popular memory ahead of other superhero films (and other Marvel Studios films) like Captain America: The First Avenger or Ant Man or Doctor Strange? It’s in interesting question to contemplate, particularly when Guardians of the Galaxy comes with so much of the baggage of those middle Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rewatching the film in hindsight, there is a lot of clunky exposition and unnecessary detail, a host of elements that exist to set up other movies (like Avengers: Infinity War) rather than serving this individual film. This is the film that properly introduced Thanos and the Infinity Stones, after all.

It is perhaps to the credit of Guardians of the Galaxy that it works well enough in spite of the demands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that it is the rare Marvel Studios film that feels entirely sure of itself and its own identity. Despite all this continuity and all of these connections, Guardians of the Galaxy is structured by Gunn and credited co-writer Nicole Perlman as a very simple allegory beneath all the talk of “Celestials” and “the Nova Corps”, between trips to “Xandar” and “Morag.” At its core, Guardians of the Galaxy never loses sight of what it’s actually “about” beneath the trappings of comic book lore and the spectacle of a twenty-first century blockbuster. It is the story of a young boy who responds to a massive trauma by retreating into a world of fantasy.

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Non-Review Review: Wilkolak (“Werewolf”)

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Werewolf is pretty solid “Nazisploitation”, those sorts of genre (usually horror) pieces that play off the imagery and reality of the Second World War.

Werewolf is certainly stronger than other recent examples of the genre, such as Overlord. Focusing on a group of children Holocaust survivors who find themselves menaced by a pack of feral dogs from the camp, Werewolf is a story about trauma, violence and victimhood. It is a film about how these things self-perpetuate, and how these cycles of abuse need to be broken. Writer and director Adrian Panek frames this story through the lens of horror.

This certainly makes sense. The Second World War and the Holocaust were a trauma on a global scale, but most obviously on the European continent. The concentration camps were build outside of Germany, spreading the horror across the region. Poland was home to six extermination camps, something that leaves an indelible mark on a region. Werewolf navigates this trauma through  familiar horror movie staples; the orphans in the gothic mansion, the haunted woods, the allegorical monster, the group that threatens to fracture and fray under pressure.

The only real problem with Werewolf is that it’s simply not scary enough to work as a horror movie.

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115. Roma – This Just In (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Aine O’Connor, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

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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My 12 for ’18: “You Were Never Really Here” & What You Never Really Saw

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number eight.

The premise of You Were Never Really Here suggests a certain type of film.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe. The audience learns very little about Joe explicitly through exposition of dialogue, his back story and motivations suggested by quick cut flashbacks. As with a lot of You Were Never Really Here, director Lynne Ramsay understands something that may seem counter-intuitive to cinema, the notion that what is unseen might be as important as what is explicitly shown. Joe hunts down paedophiles and rescues children from their clutches.

That description suggests a thriller or an action movie, rooted in visceral and tangible violence. It might work as a direct-to-video exploitation film starring some actor with which mainstream audiences have no familiarity. It might also play well as a Liam Neeson release in early January, something akin to an even grittier Taken. At the more extreme end of the scale, it could play like a cousin to Joel Schumacher’s weird and overlooked 8mm.

What is so refreshing about You Were Never Really Here is that it doesn’t play like any of those, and is instead very much its own thing.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Memorial (Review)

Memorial is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager doing a generic Star Trek story.

The episode has a very basic premise that allows for the construction of a science-fiction allegory, the kind of storytelling associated with the franchise dating back to early adventures like The Devil in the Dark or Errand of Mercy. Despite its unique premise and set-up, Voyager had largely embraced the archetypal mode of Star Trek storytelling in its third season. A lot of Voyager episodes feel very broad and very generic, and could easily be adapted for another series – whether inside or outside the franchise.

The real devil in the dark.
Spoiler: It’s us.

There any number of episodes that are not rooted in the specific premise of Voyager, that could easily have been reworked or reinvented for another crew at another point. The Chute was a harrowing story about the horrors of mass incarceration and its capacity to turn people into animals. Nemesis was a meditation on killology, in the way that militaries turn soldiers into killing machines. Scientific Method was a treatise on the horrors of animal testing. Random Thoughts was paranoia about “political correctness gone mad” translated into forty minutes of television.

Memorial belongs to a very specific subset of these episodes, something of a bridge between the more generic Star Trek storytelling to which Voyager aspires and a slightly more specific area of thematic interest. Voyager is a series very much engaged with the idea of memory and history, perhaps befitting the Star Trek series that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first century. Episodes like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness are all archetypal Star Trek stories, but they are built around ideas of particular interest to Voyager.

The past never remains buried.

As the title implies, Memorial belongs to that very specific subset of episodes. It is easy to imagine a version of Memorial starring James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko or Jonathan Beckett Archer. It is a generic Star Trek episode that could work with any crew, perhaps meaning something slightly different in each context. (On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it would be an “O’Brien must suffer!” episode. In fact, Hard Time is quite close.) However, it is an episode that engages overtly with ideas that are of great interest to Voyager.

Memorial is about the importance of memory and history, even in a world where time seems to have lost all meaning.

Standing watch over history.

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