Failed Critics Review: Skyfall/Bond Special

Duh, duh,duh, duuuuuhhh, duh, duh duuuuuuuuhhh!

Bond is back on the big screens, and to celebrate Failed Critics recorded a podcast devoted to all things Bond, James Bond. To discuss the latest outing of 007: Licence to Kill we gathered Steve (Licence to Thrill), Owen (Licence to Ill), James (Licence to Grill), and Gerry (Licence to Pop Down t’Mill – because he’s a northerner).

We also discuss some classic (and not-so-classic) Bond films, and attempt the most shamefully embarrassing Pop Quiz of all time.

Join us later in the week for the second of our Bond Specials as we discuss our favourite non-Bond performances from Connery, Moore, Lazenby, and Craig.

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Reboot-era Bond themes: A reflection

Today’s inevitable Bond-related piece is from Guest contributor Liam Pennington as he walks us through the modern-era Bond themes. 

Goldeneye – Tina Turner (Goldeneye – 1995)

How to do “old” with a new twist. It’s got Bassey all the way through it, with a touch of 90s bombast and a respectful air for both the franchise and Tina Turner. It still stands up today, its movie score background making it a little incongruous on a list of power ballads, though it retains a credible pop sensibility

Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997)

Not the easiest title to put into a song and yet it’s not a bad job. The lyrics are clunkier than a car with square wheels but when you’ve got to retain Sheryl Crow’s country motif there’s no harm in throwing everything into a recording studio with a shit-tonne of melancholy and a slide-guitar. As ‘difficult second album’ type syndromes go, it’s not a bad song outside the context of Bond

The World is Not Enough – Garbage (The World is Not Enough – 1999)

Well I love Garbage as much as I do freshly boiled black pudding swimming in vinegar so yes, I’m gonna say it’s a good track. Oddly though, it’s not the most enduring of the ‘reboot’ songs, as it sits uneasily between a knowingly ironic Bond theme and a deliberately low-key Garbage album track. As such it comes across now as a bit too ‘arch’ or sneery. Very well sung

Die Another Day (Die Another Day – 2002)

And then the wheels fall off, the dog dies, the water dries up, the clouds part to reveal a sky made of stained bedsheets…..This was a leap too far in the wrong direction for the franchise, for Madonna, for just about everyone involved. This is face-swapping, invisible car driving nonsense of the highest order. As a dance song, it’s crap. As a pop song, it’s over produced, over-layered, badly structured, barely memorable. As a Madonna track, it’s weak, and that includes the one she did repeating “Hollywood” for approximately five hypergazillion times. Terrible, terrible song

You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royal – 2006)

Reboot number 2 – the Bourne Years. It simmers, it burns, it catches in your ear for the rest of the day, it’s VERY good. I love this track still today – a broad-brush rock song which ditches the guns/Martinis/broken heart stuff and dumps the film’s name for a refreshing re-imagining of the franchise’s soundtrack.

Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace – 2008)

Given that Question of Sport was utter bobbins, this wasn’t such a bad song. It’s a bit clumsy and derivative lyrics wise, and I could do without the hash of a chorus, but it’s not all that terrible. I know it’s been labelled one of the worst, if not the worst, songs of all the Bonds, I don’t agree it’s that bad. Doesn’t stand out, doesn’t deserve to be labelled as rotten as Quandary of Boris

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall – 2012)

Well I like it. Adele splits opinion right down the middle, I can understand why, though this one does it for me. The clichéd lyrics are back, the stirring of the Bond theme motif is back, the overblown choruses are back, and for all the lack of fashion, I think it all works really well. Having rebooted the franchise with Tina Turner taking on the task of being that era’s attempt of a Shirley Bassey number, it’s fitting to see the very same attitude with Adele. Here’s the 2012 version of “Goldeneye” – they needed a big, bold, brass ballad with all the subtlety of having anal pleasure with a switched-on kettle, and they got it.

Liam Pennington is at the action side of 30 years old and is the On-Line Editor for High Voltage. When not making good use of PR companies’ guff, he can be found groundhopping, writing for whoever else wants him, singing along to Eurovision records and sitting through arthouse films at Cornerhouse, Manchester.

@doktorb
www.liampennington.blogspot.com

Whine On You Crazy Diamond: Don’t fuck up Bond!

Friday saw the release of the much-anticipated new Bond film, Skyfall. You can get the Failed Critics take on it in tomorrow’s Bond Special podcast – but so far critical and commercial consensus is that this is one of the best of the series.

So now that Bond is back on top, I can’t help but worry that Hollywood is going to fuck it all up in the way they did during the later Roger Moore films, and even more unforgivably with the piss-poor Die Another Day.

So here is my advice, gleaned from years of imaginary film production experience, on how not to fuck up the next Bond film.

1. Get a world-class director

Sam Mendes was a very interesting choice for Skyfall. The Oscar-winning director of suburban dramas American Beauty and Revolutionary Road hasn’t exactly got a track-record for the type of ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ action required and expected from a Bond film (although Road to Perdition and Jarhead had their moments). It didn’t matter though, as Mendes (with cinematographer Roger Deakins) produced a sensational-looking film, and coaxed brilliant performances from the entire cast. Skyfall’s quiet moments definitely benefited from having someone like Mendes at the helm.

But with Mendes unlikely to direct the next Bond film, who should the producers turn to? Whoever it is, please don’t return to the days of the jobbing director whose role is more managerial than artistic. Bond is a premium brand once more, and it should be a job for the best directors currently working.

My choice would be one of Christopher Nolan (unlikely), Paul Greengrass (whose future with the Bourne series seems to be over), or Matthew Vaughn (currently one of the most talented directors working, and has shown he can handle a big studio film with X-Men: First Class).

2. Set the tone, don’t respond to it

What was so refreshing about Skyfall is that it had something to say about the way intelligence agencies operate in this new era of counter-terrorism. It offered us a camp, maniacal villain – but made it clear that ‘we’ created him. This was blurring-the-lines stuff, with moral ambiguity everywhere.

Bond needs to continue in this vein to remain relevant. A modern Bond should be dealing with issues like drone killings and illegal rendition – not returning to the dark days of ‘one-off man mentals’ (© Chris Morris) conjuring plans to destroy the entire world from their underwater bases.

3. Get the theme tune right

I know this might seem silly, but a Bond film can live or die by its theme. Die Another Day had a promising pre-credit sequence, but the moment the Madonna snoozefest of a tune kicked in you just knew the film was going to go downhill quicker than Roger Moore on skis chased by Russians.

Adele was a safe, yet credible choice for Skyfall – and the tune itself is as much homage to Bond tunes gone by as the film is to its predecessors. But please stay away from any future attempts to modernise the Bond theme. It should be classy, orchestral, and above all keep it well out of the hands of anyone who has appeared on a TV talent show.

This week’s suggested viewing:

DVD – This is a recommendation for those doing their best to avoid Halloween. Although I was more charmed by it than my Failed Critics colleagues, we all agreed that The Five-Year Engagement (out on DVD today) was a thoroughly decent modern rom-com, with some lovely chemistry between stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.

TV – Let the Right One In (2008), Film4, Wednesday 31October. I cannot recommend staying up for Tomas Alfredson’s debut highly enough. This Swedish horror is more than a blood and guts vampire film, it is a fine study of the alienation of a young boy growing up in a Stockholm suburb in the 1980s. This film will stay with you.

Lovefilm Instant  – Who Saw Her Die (1972). The story of an estranged English couple in Venice recovering from the death of their daughter, and who get dragged into a murky underworld when they investigate the circumstances surrounding her death. No, this isn’t Don’t Look Now – in fact, this Italian giallo film was released a year before Nic Roeg’s horror classic, and is clearly (alongside other giallo films) a big influence on it. Ennio Morricone’s score is probably the scariest thing you will hear all Halloween

Netflix UKTucker and Dale vs Evil (2010). Those who enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods’ deconstruction of the horror genre will surely enjoy this reworking of the classic ‘teenagers murdered by weird hillbillies’ theme. Tucker and Dale are two quite lovable hicks who are planning to enjoy a weekend away at their new cabin, but some smart-mouth teens nearby get the wrong idea and, well – chaos and hilarity ensues.

Failed Critics Review: Paranormal Activity 4

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Review – unfortunately delayed due to technical issues.

Gerry is technically an old man who can’t stay up past 11pm apparently.

Anyway, better late than never! On this week’s podcast we review the latest instalment of the Big Fish in the Found Footage pond – Paranormal Activity 4. We also catch up on what the critics have been watching in the past week, including the wonderful Safety Not Guaranteed, the utterly bonkers Holy Motors, and the little-seen Speed Racer. Steve also finally got around to watching The Raid.

Join us at the weekend for Triple Bill where we discuss the films that have scared the crap out of us – and next week the Review returns with a review of Skyfall and a BOND SPECIAL!

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A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1970

5. The Man Who Haunted Himself

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“I’m Pelham… I AM!”

Up until the other week, I actually had Hercules In New York, the debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as my first entry on this blog piece. However, after watching a clip of the film edited down to around a minute on YouTube I realised I couldn’t justify including it, no matter what nostalgia would have me believe, because it is truly diabolical.

Well, how lucky am I then that whilst on my crusade to watch more Roger Moore films (as a part of the upcoming Bond special podcast) I somewhat accidentally discovered this wonderfully dark psychological-thriller?

(The answer is “very”.)

1970 was an almost “inbetween” year for Roger Moore. By the time this film was released, he was already a household name. Not because he was Bond, James Bond; he was still yet to play 007 for another 3 years! But because of his role in one of the highest rated British TV shows of the 60s, The Saint. Wanting to show he was more than just a camp heroic adventurer, he collaborated with British director Basil Dearden and showcased a rather more serious side to his acting ability.

I’m not much of a Bond fan. When I was younger, I preferred Sean Connery (much to my dads disapproval) although as I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate and prefer Moore’s take on Ian Flemming’s iconic character. But it’s here, and not in the world of secret spy espionage, that I think I have found my favourite film of Moore’s.

Shot like a mystery thriller with elements of the film noir genre about it, copiously straddling various different answers to its myriad of questions before finally drawing the curtain back and revealing what has been going on all along – it plays on the concepts of identity theft, of schizophrenia and psychosis. It spends time developing the story, enhancing the mystery element and finally in getting the best out of and then delivering an exquisite performance from its star actor. Combined with a fantastically early 70s look, a late 60s swing and a very catchy theme tune by Michael J Lewis (that even now creeps into my subconscious every so often and loops around my head all morning) the effort that has gone into it definitely paid off. And it’s infinitely better than Hercules in New York. Sorry, Arnie.

4. The Horror of Frankenstein

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“Anything I bring you will be so fresh it would get past the government meat inspector”

Frankenstein and his wretch have gone through many, many different incarnations. Like characters in the book, endlessly and hopelessly chasing after one another, many famous directors and actors have chased what made Mary Shelley’s classic so encapturing. Whether you’re talking about probably the most famous interpretation by James Whale with Boris Karloff as the monster, or a more light-hearted affair with Mel Brooks’ comedy Young Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus has captured the imaginations of many artists / film makers.

Perhaps none more so than Hammer Horror who, even if not qualitatively, have most definitely quantitatively been chasing that elusive creature. In The Horror of Frankenstein (a remake of their first colour horror film – The Curse of Frankenstein) Hammer Horror favourite Ralph Bates stars as a youthful, early on in his career, Baron Von Frankenstein and a pre-Darth Vader David Prowse as the monster.

It may be unintentionally funny for the most part, but this is a classic Hammer Horror film and one of the first that I saw. It is quite far removed from the classic telling of the story, although the basic principles of the plot are vaguely similar. However, the best bit about the whole film was easily spotting the “goofs” and the huge plastic boobs that all the women had. Classic Hammer Horror. Cheesy, camp, a bit silly and quite entertaining.

3. Beneath the Planet of the Apes

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“The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!“

Yep, power, naked merciless force and making sure Charlton Heston is the hero in the end regardless of what went down in the rest of the story. That’s the only thing that counts. Probably more so than the first two points, actually.

If you don’t happen to be as much of a fan of the film adaptations of Pierre Boulle’s French novel “La Planète des singes” as me, you might be surprised to know that despite it being Earth all along, there were actually 4 sequels that followed Franklin J Schaffner’s 1968 classic sci-fi blockbuster Planet of the Apes. Not counting Tim Burton’s awful attempt at rebooting the franchise, of course. And not counting the fantastic Rise of the Planet of the Apes either.

Beneath, directed by Ted Post (of Hang Em High and Magnum Force fame), is the first of the sequels and quite possibly the weakest too. It is a crazy mish-mash of ideas that are quite interesting and clever individually (human cults that worship a bomb, the forbidden zone actually being explored a bit further, the various cultures within the Apes society etc) but they come together like Blur covering a Kinks song (pop culture references from the 90s.. hmmm, how about Metallica working with Lou Reed instead? Yeah, that’ll do.)

But if you overlook its (many, many) flaws, it’s a quite decent sci-fi film and a welcome addition to the franchise. The only way to watch it is to immerse yourself in their world and just go with the flow. If there’s no other reason to watch it, then do it so you can watch the excellent two sequels that followed this!

2. Patton

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“There’s only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.”

To be honest, as great a line as that is, I could have picked almost any quote from this Franklin J Schaffner (he of Planet of the Apes fame, as you will have just read) directed Oscar winning biopic of the notorious General George S Patton.

Like the first film on this list, it’s another that I only saw the first time very recently. However, I came very close to giving up on it after 60 minutes into its 170 minute run time. If not for having such a spectacular opening speech delivered with such an assured promise that there was more to come by George C Scott as the unforgiving Patton, I might have done just that. But I stuck with it, and I am so glad I did.

For what is quite an impenetrable film for almost an hour, it sure does get a hell of a lot better. There is a very clear turning point in this film where the characterisation of Patton starts to rapidly develop into this incredible on screen presence. The kind you would expect from a screenplay written by Francis Ford Coppola, just before he started work on The Godfather.

What I find most interesting about Patton is that for a war film, it never really felt anti-war. It has messages about the futility of war, about the bureaucracy and the harshness of war. But it doesn’t condemn it. The fact it is a biopic, and showing you war the way the General did, through eyes that see the glory and pride of war, it’s unlike a lot of other films of its type (or, at least, of its type that I’ve seen) and definitely one of the most interestingly directed too.

1. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

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“He’s not even Italian and you’re making him risk his life!”

Dario Argento’s first full directorial debut  lands the much coveted place of first on my list of favourite films of 1970. I’m sure Disney are absolutely gutted that The Aristocats hasn’t topped the list.

But Argento’s giallo film fully deserves this spot. It may be a very up-and-down film – the first 20 minutes are excellent, the next 10 minutes quite poor, the following 10 minutes excellent again, and so on – but this decision was never in any doubt in my mind.

As good as the opening speech of Patton was, the scenes here where the protagonist, Sam, an American crime-fiction writer, witnesses a murder in an art gallery in Rome, absolutely tops it. If I may just stereotype an entire nation for a moment; in true Italian fashion, the whole film (but particularly those first few moments) are so incredibly stylish. It oozes cool from every pore.

The whole experience of witnessing the mystery of the plot unravel and then immediately cloud itself in secrecy again is incredibly exciting. It’s like witnessing a director at the very top of his game, and not one who is directing his first feature film. It’s masterful. It’s such a gorgeous film in almost every respect. Every scene is like an incredibly intricately painted portrait of the characters. Even when the plot is slightly letting the film down (the ending is weirdly tiring and disappointing compared to the rest of the film), it’s easy to overlook it and just get wrapped up in this strong visual element.

That is why my first choice on this very long blog post is the first of Argento’s Animal Trilogy (of which I’d also recommend the equally awesomely titled Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and makes this as good a place as any to stop writing, I think!

Whine on You Crazy Diamond – Found Wanting

Welcome to another helping of the scooped-out mind-innards of yours truly. This week I want to talk about a style of film-making and, some might say, a genre in its own right – Found Footage.

On Saturday I went to see Paranormal Activity 4 (featured on this week’s Failed Critics Review podcast) and it reaffirmed all of the issues I have with found footage films. They are completely unrealistic, and actually alienate me as a viewer.

First let’s look at the reason people make found footage films. The bottom line is that they are cheap. Very, very cheap. The original Paranormal Activity only cost about $15,000 to make, and The Blair Witch Project was also made for peanuts. Studios love these films because they represent a low-risk green-light decision, especially in the horror genre which, more than any other genre it seems, has an inbuilt audience who are willing to give films a chance.

The reason these films are so cheap to make is not just because they don’t use expensive sets and equipment, but also because the people involved are cheap to hire. From the director, to the screenwriter (especially with a number of these films improvised in nature), to the actors (usually unknowns who are cheap, and this also helps make them seem more realistic. No one is going to believe Brad Pitt in a found footage movie).

So from a business point of view I totally get it. I even admire these films.

But from an artistic point of view?

The other argument I have heard in support of found footage films is that they are ‘more realistic’ and that in the horror genre this makes them scarier. This is where I have to disagree. In my opinion, found footage films are less ‘realistic’ than any stop-motion film, CGI-powered superhero film, or badly dubbed and bloodily violent 1970s kung-fu film.

Let me explain.

Cinema has been around for over 100 years. In that time, as a species we have evolved our perception of cinema as art-form and entertainment, and can now put ourselves in a state of suspended disbelief when watching a well-crafted film. When I watch The Exorcist, or Ringu, I forget that I am watching a film and get drawn into the horror that the characters are facing. This is despite the fact that I am seeing things that I couldn’t possibly see in real life – including camera angles and special effects. A well-directed and shot film feels ‘real’.

So any attempt to consciously make a film appear real has the opposite effect on me. My suspicions are instantly raised. I can’t suspend my disbelief and find myself asking questions – why are they talking about boring things in a film? Who ‘found’ this footage? Why are they recording this seemingly random set of events?

And that’s the killer for me – I spend the majority of every found footage film questioning why a character is filming that particular footage. Once a film sets itself up as being ultra-realistic, the slightest crack in the façade ruins the whole pretence. I have the same issue with 3D films presenting themselves as being more immersive, when in fact the opposite is true – but that’s for another day…

DVD – New out this week is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – and you can hear what we thought of that on the podcast here. Instead, why not treat yourself to one (or both) of the lovely re-releases of classic films available for the first time on Blu-ray. Steven Spielberg’s E.T., or Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

TVLayer Cake. Film 4 on Fri 26 Oct at 9pm. If you’re not going to see Skyfall on Friday night, then why not watch Daniel Craig’s breakthrough performance in Matthew Vaughn’s debut film that is that very rare thing – an excellent, modern British gangster film.

Lovefilm InstantClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). If you’ve heeded my advice above and forked out on the Blu-ray release of E.T., then make an extra-terrestrial night of it and watch Spielberg’s other ‘they came from the stars’ classic from the era in which he could do no wrong.

Netflix UKDreams of a Life (2011). Recently discussed on the Failed Critics Review, this fascinating documentary investigates the circumstances around the death of Joyce Vincent who died in her bedsit aged 38, and lay undiscovered for three years.

The Departed (2006), Infernal Affairs (2002)

There are some films that you just know you’re going to like even before they begin. The Departed was one of those for me.

How could it not be good? Directed by Martin Scorsese. Big names like Matt Damon, Leonardo Di Caprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen.

Even Mark Wahlberg was supposed to be good in it.

And so it proved. The plot can sound a lot more complicated than it really is. It’s cops, led by Sheen, versus gangsters, led by Nicholson. Each side has a mole in the other camp, Di Caprio the cop turned mobster and Damon the opposite. And each mole is trying to identify their rival mole, in order to protect their own cover.

It’s a black and white tale really. Di Caprio has spent so long on the wrong side of the law that it’s beginning to eat him up. You can see in every scene how passionately he wants to draw a line underneath his undercover days, go back to a normal life. All he has to do is deliver Nicholson. Meanwhile, Damon, for want of a better phrase, is a sneaky piece of shit. I couldn’t help taking an immediate dislike to his character.

One thing that does take a bit of getting used to is the Boston accent on show. Before this film I had no idea there was such a thing, and it can take a minute or two to tune your ear to it. But it’s almost a character in itself and really adds to the pace and the rhythm of the dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, Wahlberg’s performance is one for the ages. It’s not just the foul content of his lines, but the venom with which he spits them out (and no, that’s not a reference to his hip hop days as Marky Mark).

It’s not Scorsese’s greatest film, by any stretch, and you’ll never hear a worse Irish accent than that attempted by Ray Winstone. But it’s a fantastic way to spend two and a half hours

Or at least, that’s what I thought before this week, when I sat down to watch Infernal Affairs on Netflix.

Infernal Affairs is a Hong Kong film from 2002, and was the ‘inspiration’ for the Departed. It’s basically the same story, but in Cantonese. And it is out-of-this-world brilliant.

For starters, there’s the sheer speed at which the story rattles along. The Departed’s running time is 151 minutes. Infernal Affairs gets the job done in 101 minutes, the best part of an hour less. There’s no dawdling about, it gets on with it and sucks you in immediately. The placing of the respective moles is over within a matter of minutes, before we even see the title of the film.

I thought that Di Caprio’s performance was the very embodiment of quiet desperation, an undercover cop on the edge. I was wrong – Tony Leung is on a different planet. It’s a heart-breaking display, a guy watching, absorbing everything, in the hope that he can take down the top Triad – Sam, played by Eric Tsang – and get back to a life he knew before.

Any time his secret identity was at risk of being exposed, my heart was in my throat, pounding, even though thanks to the Departed I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen.

Tsang is another who puts his American successor in the shade. Nicholson is smarmy and charming, but I never really bought him as a ruthless gangster. Tsang on the other hand oozes charisma and quiet menace. His eyes were utterly chilling.

And what of the Triad’s man inside the police, Inspector Lau (Andy Lau)? It’s a very different performance to Matt Damon’s. Here is a man fighting himself – and his Triad leaders – to find out who he really is, whether he wants to be defined by his relationship with the Triads or move beyond it. I found him a far more sympathetic character, one who is aware that his mistakes have caused the deaths of good people and who feels genuine remorse for that.

There isn’t the clumsy love triangle that the Departed attempts, and the film is all the better for it.

According to IMDB, the Departed is the 52nd best film ever made, with an average rating of 8.5, compared to Infernal Affairs’ rating of 8, leaving it in 210th place. If everybody who rated the Departed were made to watch Infernal Affairs, I fully expect that positioning would be switched.

Great films stay with you long after the credits have ended. I enjoyed the Departed, but once it was over, I didn’t think about it (beyond the odd delayed chuckle at a Wahlberg line). In the 24 hours since I finished Infernal Affairs, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I implore you to watch it. You won’t regret it.

John Fitzsimons is the editor of personal finance website lovemoney.com and writes about things other than money to keep him sane. His wife still hasn’t forgiven him for subjecting her to Green Street simply for the chance to hear Frodo sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”.

@johnthejourno

Failed Critics Triple Bill: TV-Film Adaptations

In honour of this weeks Triple Bill – TV-to-Film adaptations – we upped the budget slightly and went to the continent on holiday to record it. Owen booked us into an unfinished hotel, James got drunk on local alcoholic concoctions, Gerry got into fights with all the foreigners over sunbeds, and Steve found love.

The end result is flashier, but ultimately less satisfying than the original series – unlike our choices of our favourite TV-to-Film adaptations!

Next week we return to normality with the Failed Critics Review covering Paranormal Activity 4, and in Triple Bill we choose our scariest moments in cinema.

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Failed Critics Review: TV Special

Welcome one and all to this week’s Failed Critics Review, where we’re doing something a little different – talking about TV instead of film.

You’ll get to hear what we think about programmes we’ve been watching this week, as well as the shows we think you really should be watching.

Don’t worry – the Review returns to normal next when we review Paranormal Activity 4.

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A Decade in Film: The Eighties – 1980

A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1980.

5. The Big Red One

“I still got my cock… I STILL GOT MY COCK!”

Before Saving Private Ryan and all the other fair-weather bandwagon mid-90’s WWII movies, The Big Red One painted a somewhat mesmeric picture of War. Entirely unrelenting and brutally depicted, it lacks the polish and the set-play wow-factor of Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach assault, but lends far more to the viewer than a WWII highlight reel.

The story follows the Sergeant (Lee Marvin) and his patrol of 4 Horsemen (yet more comparison to Private Ryan) through a multitude of WWII theatres of war, which adds to the desperation felt during the film. Just as the protagonists survive one mission, they’re immediately sent to another and seemingly there is no light at the end of the tunnel for these men.

The film is crammed with snappy dialogue, much more than you see in many of the mid-90’s WWII efforts and life is expended with much more abandon, perhaps making it a somewhat messier depiction of the war than it’s more recent points of comparison but more than likely a more realistic one.

The movie is best summed up in a single scene, whereby the troupe liberates a Sicilian village being used as an Artillery battery by Axis forces. As the troops take downtime, a young girl presents the Sergeant with a florally decorated helmet and there is a brief moment of escape from the madness of war, however just as the Sergeant kisses the girl goodbye she is shot by an Axis sniper and dies in his arms. It’s fleeting moments of rest followed by wave and wave of cruelty.

Mark Hamill also stars in the 1st of 2 of my choices in 1980 as a hotshot yet gun-shy trooper, but ultimately he brings little other than the big name draw to this film, it’s Lee Marvin who steals the show here.

 4. Taboo

“It happened, and I gotta tell ya.. I want it to happen again”

Not being afraid to pull any punches in my line-up  I decided to think outside the box for my next choice. Taboo is a monumental piece of adult-cinema, not only for pushing the boundaries of taste in its subject matter, but it arguably was the debut of the now very mainstream ‘MILF’ genre.

The story revolves around Barbara (Kay Parker) whose husband walks out on her at the beginning of the movie for being too boring in bed. The plot explores her quest to become more sexualized and her attempts at dating other men, which fall spectacularly array as she refuses to sleep with them at the first date.

Eventually she is invited to an orgy, attends but does not participate but this seemingly unlocks Pandora’s box and she begins to have feelings for her son, Paul… and as the title would suggest, they cross the line during the movie (twice!).

Taboo is a delightful film in many senses, you feel equally as awkward enjoying it as the characters likely did in their self-indulgence. The beauty of the movie is the impending curiosity it enforces on the viewer, you really need to know if they can go through with it. It’s one of the first adult movies that couples would enjoy together in a theatre, almost breaching that mainstream line yet not quite relinquishing the shame factor.

If you’re looking for a movie to provide a lasting legacy, it affectively created a sub-genre and spawned 22 sequels, however none of them come close to the impact of the original on the industry.

3. Airplane!

“I am serious! And don’t call me Shirley!”

Airplane is one of those special movies that has you smiling from ear to ear for the full duration. From the intro-scene with the Airplane tail-wing spoofing the Jaws shark fin, you get a good idea of what you’re in for, 80 minutes of silliness.

There is a love story at the heart of the movie, but generally speaking it plays almost zero significance, the title’s main protagonists have the least impact in terms of humour. That is saved for the brilliant Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges who serve up a tri-fector of witty jokes and clever innuendo.

It must be said that Airplane stands the test of time. There are few movies that at 32 years old can still make me laugh as much as this. It’s a perfectly sized portion of laughter at just 80mins long, it’s over long before it could ever get dull and remains enjoyable time and time again.

If you like your jokes dead-pan, straight faced and somewhat ridiculous, this is a must-see for you!

2. Shogun Assassin

“They will pay with rivers of blood”

I stumbled upon Shogun Assassin many years after it’s release. Back in the day I was a massive Hip-Hop fan and got my introduction to the movie via a number of cuts of the movie’s intro inserted into the GZA’s(Wu Tang Clan) 1995 album ‘Liquid Swords’.

It stirred enough of my curiosity to find the source and thus started a bit of a love-affair with modern Jidaigeki movies such as ‘Ninja Scroll’ and Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi. The movie even shares connections to the 60’s Zatoichi movie series with the lead actor Tomisaburo Wakayama whose brother produces the movie and was the original Zatoichi.

The movie follows the story of ‘Lone Wolf’ who is the head executioner for the paranoid Shogun who eventually orders his death. However they strike down his wife and thus begins a bloody rampage of revenge as the Lone Wolf and his son become vagabonds walking the plains of feudal Japan in search of the Shogun.

It’s easy to see why this movie is such an inspiration for the Samurai worship in Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the kill scenes are often unceremonious and death is handed out nonchalantly yet with elegance, it’s not killing for killing’s sake.

There is also purity to the Lone Wolf character that demands respect, this is best demonstrated in a very stirring scene in which the Lone Wolf saves a female Assassin from a burning boat and then proceeds to strip her against her will. Just when you think he will breach his code and rape the woman he draws her close to him and his son for the three to keep warm after jumping from the burning boat, it is a very powerful scene and reveals a human element aside from the killing-machine that Lone Wolf is portrayed.

Shogun Assassin could be considered a messy edit of 6 classic Japanese ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ movies, but I hold a special place for this movie amongst my collection, it’s one of few dubbed foreign movies I can tolerate. The dub somewhat adds to the reverence, it’s dramatic and offers something more to the grandiose nature of the entire movie.

If you enjoy movies with lots of blood, subtle swordplay and Japanese tradition, you’ll go absolutely crazy for Shogun Assassin.

1. The Empire Strikes Back

“Join me, and we can rule the galaxy as father and son”

The original Star Wars might have been the defining movie of a generation, but it’s this episode that cements the mythology of the Star Wars universe. I’m not actually a big ‘Star Wars’ fan and as blasphemous as this my sound, I actually saw ‘Empire’ before I saw ‘A New Hope’ as a child. I think with that, the original could never hold up to the special place that ‘Empire’ has in my heart.

TESB takes the winning formula of the original Star Wars and amplifies it, ten-fold! The action sequences are bigger, bolder and more flashy than anything in the original, the lightsabre fight scenes are much more dramatic and satisfying and there is a real sense of despair in the film as the Empire unleashes it’s full force on the tiny rebellion.

The film is of course responsible for one of the most iconic scenes of the 80’s, the Dark Vader revelation is cinematic gold, no matter how many times you see it, it always delivers impact. But it’s the character development in ‘Empire’ that makes utterly unforgettable. The love story between Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) provides entertainment throughout, the emerging power of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) demands more respect from the viewer than the somewhat wet characterisation in ‘A New Hope’.

However, it is Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prose) that stands out as the iconic image of the movie, a much more menacing and darker figure than in the previous film, he solidifies himself as one of the all time great movie bad-guys!

Whine On You Crazy Diamond – Why ratings are a nonsense

Firstly, welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a regular weekly column. I’m a big fan of delusions of grandeur (especially Nicolas Cage’s acting career), and the opportunity to grant myself a weekly editorial has finally proven too much.

I thoroughly enjoy the weekly recording of the Failed Critics Podcasts (so much so that I have started guesting regularly on the Born Offside podcast as well), but those chats are usually focussed on specific films or genres. Sometimes I just want to talk about the film industry, or film criticism, in a more general fashion. I plan to share these thoughts with you here, rather than boring my poor family any more than I already do.

Seriously, at the moment unless I’m talking to my daughter in a ropey (and I think possibly racist) Sebastian from The Little Mermaid  accent, she’s just not interested.

I must also thank @jook from Twitter for coming up with the name for the column – after my rather piss-poor first efforts (that included ‘Diamond in the Rough Cut’ and ‘Bloody Diamond’).

What I want to talk about this week is ratings. Not the kind of ratings that get fantastic shows like Community or Arrested Development  axed (more about those shows on this week’s Failed Critics Review TV Special) – but the stars, marks out-of-ten, and thumbs-up/down that allow lazy/time-pressed readers to quickly decide which films to spend their hard-earned money/download limits on.

What got me thinking about this is a discussion I had with someone online about Looper. I enjoyed the film, and pressed for time and characters online I said I’d give it 8/10. My friend was stunned, and said he thought it was a 6/10 film, or a 7/10 “at a push”. After a little discussion, it appeared that we actually held very similar views – it’s just that, like my favourite teachers at school, I am a more generous marker.

The fact is ratings are almost useless. Not only will the differ from person to person due to the subjective reaction they’ll have to the film, but each critic is also marking from a completely different set of marking criteria – and this is especially true in the brave new world of free online ‘journalism’ where any old chump (such as yours truly) can set themselves up as a film reviewer.

Having spoken to a few of my online colleagues I have discovered vastly different marking criteria used to rate a film. Personally, I operate on a system of awarding 10 at the start of the film, and taking away marks as things annoy, disappoint, and plain disgust me. Just to add a little more complexity to my system, I will only award a film a maximum of 8 out of 10 for execution – a perfect genre piece like Dredd 3D for example did absolutely everything I hoped it would, but I couldn’t award it any more as there was barely a shred of originality to it (which would have lifted it to a possible 9), or that magic, intangible something that makes a film a 10/10 delight (for example Goodfellas is a classic 9/10 for me, while The Godfather just has that something extra that makes it a 10/10).

Other people I have spoken to would regard 6/10 as a pretty good mark – I would regard that as the mark of an exceedingly average film that added nothing new to the canon of cinema and was just about a pleasant-enough distraction for 2 hours. Someone else I spoke to said that there is no such thing as a 10/10 film, as they could only award 10/10 for perfection.

Basically ratings are useless. Even if you haven’t time to read a full review in a rush, without the context of ‘critical baggage’ the number of stars at the end of their considered thoughts might as well be hieroglyphics, or a picture of a badger. If you’ve not got time to read and compare one or two reviews, you’ll probably have more success if you choose a film at random and watch it without reading anyone else’s opinions beforehand. Try it.

What to watch this week:

DVD – Of this week’s new releases I have only seen Dark Shadows which I would urge everyone to avoid at all costs. You can find out why in more detail here. However after a manufacturing error which resulted in all the Blu-rays suffering from viewing problems, you can now find the self-referencing horror homage Cabin in the Woods back on shelves from today.

TV – The Man Who Knew Too Much. Film 4 on Fri 19 Oct at 4.45pm. James Stewart and Doris Day star in Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of an innocent man (surprise, surprise) on the run from mysterious forces. Lovely stuff.

Lovefilm Instant  – Candyman (1992). Recently added to Lovefilm Instant, this tale of the vengeful spirit of a former slave brutally murdering the residents of a Chicago housing project is the perfect warm-up for the release this week of Paranormal Activity 4, and the slew of horror films that will be filling our screens for the next fortnight. Go on, say Candyman five times in the nearest mirror*

*Failed Critics will not be held responsible for the appearance of supernatural killers, or your subsequent wrongful arrest for their crimes.

Netflix UK – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Relatively new to the UK catalogue, this is the archetypal ‘film of two halves’. Robert Rodriguez directs a ‘fresh-from ER’ George Clooney alongside Harvey Keitel, Julliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, and Quentin Tarantino. One part frontier heist-gone-wrong film, one part blood-soaked Vampire apocalypse film.

Failed Critics Triple Bill: Revenge Movies

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for perfect sound quality, I can tell you I don’t have money for decent equipment. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a pretty short podcasting career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you download the podcast, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will put it on your iPod without you knowing.

In other words – on Triple Bill this week we talk about our favourite Revenge Movies!

Join us next week for our TV Specials.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1990

A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Kate has chosen to relive the nineties, because she’s old enough to remember them in their entirety  This week she revisits 1990.

5. Pretty Woman

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“I think we both know she’s not my niece.”

Bridging the gap from the big hair and leather boots of the Eighties to the sleek bobs and kitten heels of the Nineties is Pretty Woman. Hot off the heels of the female-barbershop-quintet-renal-failure-romp Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts smashes it, teaches Hollywood Boulevard a lesson, and basically makes us all want to become a hooker.

I’ve written before that I first saw this film in primary school. Over twenty years on, it stands the test of time. Roberts is adorable and exquisite – the need to exclaim how much nicer her real hair is once she loses the wig never tires. I generally don’t see the appeal of Gere, though his brooding business man (a precursor to Sex and the City’s Mr Big)  is endearing. However it’s Héctor Elizondo as the kindly hotel manager who steals the show. And his real life love story with director Garry Marshall is even cuter than Edward & Vivian.

 

4. Home Alone

“Kevin, you’re such a disease!”

After defining teen movies throughout the Eighties, John Hughes enters the new decade with a new protagonist, and children everywhere respond by attempting to bunk off their family holidays. As is the John Hughes grown up hating way, eight year old Kevin is smarter, more socially aware, with better woodworking skills than his adult counterparts, and defends his house accordingly.

Watching this as a kid around the same age as the star was pretty exciting, and a great way to diminish a fear of burglars. Just don’t say it launched Culkin‘s career, because he was brilliant in Uncle Buck the year before. It stands up to repeat viewings, and the great Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s forgetful mum becomes more infuriating each time. I’m a sucker for a good Christmas film, and you can’t beat a bit of Carol of the Bells. Home Alone 2 is miles better, though.

 

3. Ghost

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“Molly, you in danger, girl.”

The highest grossing film of the year, nominated for five (winner of two) Academy Awards, and perpetually dismissed as a chick flick. The ghost of a murdered banker enlists the help of a usually phoney psychic to save the life of his lover. A potter’s wheel and The Righteous Brothers also star. That Sam and his colleagues conduct their multimillion dollar deals on VDU green screens shows the leap in technology about to take place. By the end of the decade we were watching The Matrix.

A love story, no doubt, but the relationships both Sam and Molly have with psychic Oda Mae Brown are the important ones. Goldberg plays cynical and hysterical to perfection, and this role sets her up nicely for a career as a nun. The late Patrick Swayze offers up some serious emotional acting, after spending the previous few years typecast as a face kicking dancer. He still manages to take his top off quite a bit though, which is no bad thing.

 

2. Edward Scissorhands

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“Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did.”

Tim Burton‘s surprise follow up to Beetlejuice and Batman chronicles the discovery of an inventor’s unfinished creation in weird suburbia. The film is said to be largely autobiographical for Burton. Except the bit where he has scissors for hands. A tragic love story about society, reality and hedge-trimming. Beauty and the Beast for the Nineties, but without the happy ending.

An angsty teen staple, I watched my VHS copy until it died. Even the trailer makes me well up. Depp is stunning as our Gothic hero, in the first of many collaborations with Burton. And the always good Dianne Wiest, is the nicest Avon lady you could ever hope to procure eye shadow from.

 

1. Goodfellas

“One day some of the kids from the neighborhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect.”

Spanning three decades in the life of a gangster and, after the economic slump of the Eighties, showcasing a lifestyle we could all aspire to. A contender for the greatest film of all time (until we reach 1994, at least) and certainly one of Scorsese’s greatest achievements (not counting his Curb Your Enthusiasm cameo).

Ensemble cinema at its best, marred only by the fact that our original DVD copy had to be flipped over halfway through the film to accommodate the 146 minute running time. From the pitch perfect soundtrack, to that tracking shot, Goodfellas is perfect every time. And then we got to relive it the following decade, when half the cast showed up in The Sopranos.

Oldboy (2003)

It’s looking like Park Chan-wook’s tremendous revenge-thriller, Oldboy, is set to be remade in 2013 by American film-maker, Spike Lee. I’d go on to say how disappointed I am by another needless remake, but frankly, it’s not going to detract anything from the original, however disappointing or surprisingly good Lee’s rendition turns out.

Oldboy is a film that caught me by surprise. I’d seen the film recurring on lists of ‘best foreign films’ and the like, but didn’t pay attention to the curiosity-catching plot and quite how much it appealed to me. The story follows Oh Dae-su, a man imprisoned for 15 years, with no knowledge of his captor or the reasons behind the new life he lives.

His room has a bed, a desk, a television and a bathroom cubicle. The door contains a slot, large enough for a food tray to slide through. But no slot necessary at eye-level. Daily, an incapacitating gas is released into the room and upon Dae-Su’s awakening, the room has been cleaned, his clothes changed and a new batch of dumplings delivered. He scribbles writings into a journal, ferociously beats his fists against the walls that contain him and uses television to stay connected to humanity in what diminutive way he can; it is simultaneously ‘a clock and a calendar. It’s your school, your home, your church, your friend… And a lover’.

Until one day, a news-piece reveals that his own blood and fingerprints have been found at the scene of his wife’s murder; that he has become a wanted man.

Oh Dae-Su is soon released from his prison and equipped with money, a phone and expensive clothes. He is given five days to seek his revenge. At a sushi restaurant, he meets Mi-do, who offers her sympathy, cares for him and joins him on his search for meaning.

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.

While staying with Mi-do, it quickly becomes apparent that Oh is out of touch with the subtleties of human nature, and immediately desires Mi-do; a much greater lover than he previously considered his room’s television. But his physical infatuation does not deter him from finding his former captor. Years of disciplined physical repetition has left Oh Dae-Su’s body strong, but his mind is focused only on vengeance and a quest for answers, regardless of what brutality it takes to get them.

Oldboy is not violence for violence’s sake, but it is brutal. Punishment is in the film’s core and it is shown with a gritty style that won’t be to everyone’s taste. However, the film is also very authentic. Choi Min-sik plays Oh Dae-Su and is mesmerising; portraying slips into madness and the need for a human connection, as a result of his tormented, cut-off past. Oldboy has many shocking scenes that aren’t in for shock value, but regardless how believable or ‘justified’ it feels for Dae-Su’s savage character, watching and hearing the claw-end of a hammer go at another man’s set of teeth is hard to stomach.

However violent it seems, the film remains artistic at its core. A scene where Dae-Su fights off several of his former jailers, with a knife thrust into his back, is extremely well choreographed to show the overpowering rage and determination that fuels him, while also remaining stylish and fast-paced.

Watching Oldboy, I was caught up in the mystery of the plot and the style of the film, rather than letting the violence take a front seat. The film offers many moments of humour and humanity, which make it feel completely genuine. Oldboy is powerful, not just for the impact of the visceral violence, but more-so because of the depths of human depravity it portrays. Unlike a lot of recent thrillers, this is a film whose stylish, gritty violence feels like it is serving the equally dark plot, rather than vice-versa.

My name is Jonny Stringer and I’m a journalism student in Sheffield with a growing interest in film. I’m no expert, but know that I’d love the chance to write about film for a living, so I’m hoping practice makes perfect.

I’m a big fan of thrillers, dark humour and the odd bit of stylish violence, but that’s not to say I don’t watch the occasional Disney film from time to time.

Like many, I’m aiming to get through the IMDb Top 250, while also keeping up-to-date with upcoming releases but on a student budget, I do tend to lag behind.

I occasionally write about film on http://jonnystringer.wordpress.com/ and can be tweeted at https://twitter.com/jonnyzomg 

Behind the Screens: Return to Energiser

At some point most of us have dreamed of working in a cinema. Being able to watch as many films as you like, and your customers are quiet and in the dark for most of their time with you. Then we grow up and the dream dies.

However, a select few get to live out that dream,and in the first of a news series Matt Lambourne desribes his time on the other side of the silver screen…

As part of my regular contributions to FailedCritic.com I shall be writing a short series on my experiences of working on the other side of the movie industry, as part of a cinema chain itself.

Before you pipe in with excellent original jokes about Hot Dog flipping and Popcorn dispensary, I’d like to point out that I only did that for one week before engaging on a five-year career with one of the UK’s biggest cinema chains from the age of 16, until shortly after my 21st birthday.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was a waste of space at High School; I had literally no idea what I wanted to do for my work experience, let alone my eventual career. After being rejected for work experience by Woolworths (don’t ask), I had to think long and hard about what I fancied doing. As I enjoy going to ‘the pictures’ as my dear old mum used to call it, I decided to take up my work experience at the local multiplex.

I didn’t get to do anything terribly exciting – I was mostly ushered people into the correct screen, checking their tickets, making sure no one sneaked in etc. When there were gaps in performance starting times I’d get to sit in and watch a movie or two as long as it wasn’t an 18 certificate. Generally it was very boring and I didn’t make it through the second week, I decided to just take a couple of days off at home instead of going to work or school.

With that in mind, it was quite remarkable when I turned up back at the same cinema chain almost a year to the day later for a job interview, albeit at the Contact Centre, rather than the cinema itself. Luckily they had no idea who I was and my brief flirtation in cinema work was somewhat (I say that very loosely) advantageous.

Thus began a five year career in this cinema’s Contact Centre, firstly as a telephone booking agent during the ultra busy advance reservation period for Star Wars: Episode I and progressing into Team Leadership roles and eventually becoming a supervisor for the team managing the day to day content updating of their then fledgling website.

I’ll be writing a few tales and insider secrets, so you have a rough idea of what goes on beyond hot-dogs, nachos and the tearing of ticket-stubs. For my first piece, I’d like to reminisce about a particularly odd occurrence. Allow me to tell you a little about our building.

It’s part of the city’s major leisure complex in Stoke-on-Trent, which contained the cinema (10 screens), pool hall, and a bowling alley  on the ground floor. Our contact centre was located on the upper floor of this complex, adjoining one interesting business in particular…

This particular day I was in charge of the supervisors desk, I was assigning break times to staff, dealing with escalated customer queries and handling the security mechanisms for the electronic doors which allowed people into our building. In regards to the latter, I had a couple of cameras with various views of the main door to the Contact Centre, people would hit a buzzer when they arrived and the supervisor on duty would remotely open the door to let them in.

This was a day in-day out,many times per day chore and was dull, very dull! But this one day, something very interesting happened. The door buzzed and I peek at the camera and to my surprise I see a short figure, covered in body armour and flashing lights! I pick up the inter-com to speak to this stranger from the future..

Me – “Hello?!?”

Him – “Err, hello?”

Me – “This is the door to the *** Contact Centre, who are you?”

Him – “I’m lost! *sniff sniff *, I was looking for the Energiser!”

Me – “Energiser?”

Him – “This thing, it’s telling me to return to Energiser!”

At this point I finally clicked what was going on. There was a door adjacent to the entry to our Contact Centre, which connected us to Quasar, the laser gun game! This door as it turns out was a fire/emergency exit from the game arena and our poor kid had managed to get lost on his way back to the energiser.

As I’m not authorised to bring this kid into our complex I make my way to the door to escort this tiny kid out of our buidling, who looks like a cross between Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Solider and Koko-B-Ware! I get to the door and the kid is literally sobbing, I take him for a short walk around the inside of the leisure complex to the backdoor of the building where our staff enter and walk him around the complex to the front door to Quasar. The poor lad is being pointed at and laughed at as he’s crying in front of people, dressed in bright orange body armour and a poor man’s replica pulse rifle!

I tell the staff at Quasar what happened and they presumably get him back into the game and I went back to the grindstone, rather happy with this unusual happenstance, which has broken up my day!

I hope you enjoyed this first peek Behind the Screens, and in the next part of the series we’ll be exploring perks of the job (including free video games!) and an introduction to Mrs. Batman!

Matt – Matt’s voyage into cinema began via work experience at aged 15 as an usher which lead to a natural progression into Cinema Contact Centre busy body. Being able to see new movies for free and having 100% disposable income to blow meant a lot of bad DVDs were bought and thus created a monster.

Matt enjoys anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it and more obscure titles, as being from Stoke; he’s too posh for the mainstream.

@Matt_Lambourne

blogspot.mattlpoker.com