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84. Touch of Evil (#241)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guests Charlene Lydon and Grace Duffy, 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 Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.

A murder in a small border town stokes local tensions, as Ramon Miguel Vargas finds himself drawn into an investigation overseen by Police Captain Hank Quinlan. As Quinlan pursues his lines of inquiry, Vargas quickly comes to realise that his would-be partner is not what he appears to be.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 241st best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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To Catch a Predator: Why Is It So Hard to Franchise the Predator?

The Predator is one of the most iconic creations of the past thirty-odd years.

The creature created by Stan Winston for John McTiernan’s 1987 action blockbuster is instantly recognisable. It is striking and distinctive. Even people who have never sat down and watched a movie featuring the creature are familiar with the design. This is especially notable given that it could have been a disaster. The original design for the creature is something of an internet urban legend, part of the pop cultural folklore. Predator narrowly averted disaster when Stan Winston redesigned the monster from scratch, so it is all the more impressive that it became such a classic.

It is no surprise that the Predator was quickly franchised. After all, that is how the film industry works. Although modern prognosticators decry the modern era as one defined by sequels and remakes and reboots, but they have always been a feature of the landscape. So the Predator became the cornerstone of an impressive multimedia franchise; even outside of games and comic books, the creature anchored Predator 2, Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Predators and The Predator. That’s an impressive list, in terms of quantity and variety.

However, it is decidedly less impressive in terms of quality. Of those five sequels, Predators is the only one with a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. Similarly, Predators is the only sequel with a vaguely positive rating on MetaCritic, scraping just over fifty percent. This is the kind of showing that audiences and critics expect from low-rent horror sequels like those starring Freddie Kreuger or Jason Voorhees. (Indeed, the latest sequel starring Michael Myers is critically outpacing The Predator.) It is not exactly an impressive track record for a reasonably big budget mainstream high-profile science-fiction franchise.

Indeed, the stock comparison for the Predator is the Alien franchise, and for good reason. The xenomorph from Alien is another iconic late twentieth-century alien design housed within an R-rated science-fiction action-horror franchise. Both properties are owned by Twentieth Century Fox, allowing them to intersect and crossover within a shared universe. Both have spawned a variety of sequels, and are loosely linked in the popular mind in the way that the Universal Studios films linked Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster with the Mummy or the Invisible Man.

However, this stock comparison does not flatter the Predator. After all, the xenomorph has been at the centre of a franchise that is consistently interesting and at best innovative. There are sequels to Alien that are rightly regarded as classics such as Aliens, while other have launched great careers such as Alien³, and some still cause fierce debates. For all the criticism of films like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, they at least engender passion in their audiences, in a way that the sequels to Predator do not. Why is it so hard to make a good Predator sequel?

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Non-Review Review: The Happytime Murders

The Happytime Murders may be the worst film of the year.

There are any number of issues with The Happytime Murders. The film is only ninety one minutes long, but feels interminable. The film has no idea what it is about in any meaningful sense, beyond assembling a number of familiar tropes in a very familiar way. Beyond that, the film seems to believe that rehashing familiar clichés is amusing of itself, some sort of self-aware postmodern ironic anti-comedy where the reference to the thing is enough of itself to become a joke.

It really blows.

A larger problem is that the film assumes that seeing puppets do “adult” things has greater novelty than it does. The Happytime Murders is a film that is consciously powered by the juvenile thrill of watching beloved children’s characters caught in inappropriate situations – swearing at one another, smoking cigarettes, engaging in vigorous sexual activity. This glosses over the fact that there are plenty of other media that has already covered this ground. The Happytime Murders runs on a joke that has already been repeated and rehashed several times.

However, all of these concerns distract from the biggest issue with The Happytime Murders. It is just not funny.

The boy in blue.

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Non-Review Review: BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman is an American tragicomedy.

The past few years have seen a heightening of reality, a blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction, an intrusion of the unreal into the real world. The President of the United States is effectively a reality television star, and is running the country as some sort of grotesque reality television show. “Truth is not truth”, to quote one administration figure, while another has peddled in the idea of “alternative facts” while alluding to a horrific terrorist attack that simply never happened while other supporters of the administration insist that other horrific events did not happen.

The two Ronnies.

With all of that going on in the background, soaking into the zeitgeist, BlacKkKlansman feels very much like a movie for the moment. It is – to quote the introductory text – “based on some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t”, taking its inspiration from a memoir written by undercover police officer Ron Stallworth. However, it is also filtered through the hyperstylised cartoonish lens of a blackploitation buddy comedy, with Lee taking every opportunity to remind his audience that they are watching a piece of pop culture.

The premise of the film is so absurd that it’s almost impossible to play it as anything but comedy. The first black police officer in Colorado Springs launches an undercover sting on the KKK, using his own name to infiltrate the organisation through the telephone. Working with a fellow white police officer, this ambitious young go-getter manages to manoeuvre his way to the top of the organisation, fooling even the Grand Wizard himself. It’s a ridiculous story, one that seems inherently unreal. Even the name – “Stallworth” – sounds like something from a dimestore paperback.

Hitting all its marks.

Of course, in this era of unreality, it is entirely real. Indeed, the power of BlacKkKlansman comes crashing down on the audience in the final moments, when Lee brushes aside the heavy-handed references to contemporary politics that play through the narrative for something that is much more tangible and real, serving to throw the entire grim joke of the film into stark relief, suggesting that so much of the awkward squirming and ridiculous twists are all the foundation of the horror show through the audience are living.

BlacKkKlansman laughs in the face of horror and brutality. But only because the alternative is to cry.

The historical record.

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93. Reservoir Dogs (#76)

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, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Following a disastrous botched jewellery heist, what remains of a criminal gang meets at an abandoned warehouse. Unsure of who to trust and unable to determine what went wrong, these violent men quickly turn on one another while navigating a complex web of shifting loyalties.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 76th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: The Equaliser 2

At one point in The Equaliser 2, Robert McCall is listening to a radio forecast of a storm front sweeping through the north east of the United States.

“It’s coming in slow,” the meteorologist explains. “It’s taking it’s time.” In theory, so is The Equaliser 2. The storm is itself a metaphor for both the film and its protagonist, a force of nature descending upon the characters with a slow and steady certainty. The Equaliser 2 is a film that is very consciously taking its time, the script structured in such a way as to prioritise mood and ambiance over plot and pacing. The Equaliser 2 is meant to seem a stately and poetic meditation on violence and the men who commit it. At least in theory.

Yeah, we don’t know why it isn’t called The Sequeliser either.

It is clear what writer Richard Wenk and director Antoine Fuqua are trying to do over the course of the film’s two-hour-and-nine-minute runtime, building a mounting sense of dread towards a cathartic release. However, there is something deadly unsatisfying in this. The Equaliser 2 is not nearly clever enough nor intricate enough to sustain that more relaxed pace. What should be profound is instead belaboured, what should be considered is instead clumsy. Plot threads are broached and disappear. The one that reach their conclusion arrive long after the audience.

The Equaliser 2 forsakes the grotty do-it-yourself brutality of its predecessor, aspiring towards something moving and insightful. Unfortunately, all of that gets lost in a haze. The storm passes overhead, and it seems unlikely that anybody would even notice.

A storm is coming.

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Luke Cage – I Get Physical (Review)

Luke Cage is engaged with the idea of celebrity.

To be fair, it is perhaps the only Marvel Netflix series that could explore this particular theme. After all, Daredevil is about a vigilante who trades in fear and operates primarily at night. Jessica Jones is about a self-hating alcoholic who is constantly on the verge of imploding. Iron Fist is so mired in cultural appropriation that it is impossible to imagine the series pulling off the theme in a manner that wouldn’t make the show worse. The Punisher is afraid to acknowledge what its hero actually is.

In contrast, Luke Cage is anchored in a central character who is essentially a neighbourhood celebrity. Soul Brother #1 demonstrates how Luke has imposed himself on Harlem, his actions tracked through an application, his merchandise sold in the barbershop, his image graffitied on walls. In Straighten It Out, he hands out his contact details, with instructions to call him if there is an emergency. In Can’t Front On Me, it is made clear that the local community know that they can reach out to him in person at the barbershop in case of emergency.

However, what is most striking about the handling of celebrity within Luke Cage is not just that it deals with the idea of Luke as a celebrity, but that it then uses Luke in order to interrogate how society treats its celebrities and how popular culture hungers for the fall just as excitedly as they cheered for the rise.

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