Lost River

Lost River is an ambitious project, but ultimately a hollow, lifeless experience.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

lost river 1I first started a new post on WordPress for this review on the afternoon of Saturday 18th April, shortly after the credits rolled on Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. I then looked at the blank white box, paused for a second, looked straight down at the keyboard, paused again, then hit ‘Save Draft’ and decided I’d come back to it on the following day. “It’s the kind of film that needs mulling over first,” I explained to myself.

So, I came back to the draft the following afternoon, where I proceeded to then look at the blank box, scratch my head, then leave the tab open for most of the day without writing down a word. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

In the intervening week I’ve been back to this review almost every day. Deleting bits, adding bits, rewriting huge chunks of it. Such is the kind of film that Lost River is that it’s taken me nearly two weeks to finish putting my thoughts into something vaguely intelligible. It’s not because I have so much to say about it, but quite the opposite. How do you write a review for a film that isn’t a just an image of yourself shrugging your shoulders?

Annoyingly, none of the alternatives immediately sprang to mind nor properly revealed themselves over the past thirteen days. Nothing that adequately explained exactly how I felt about the film quite as aptly anyway. Turning this review into a simple black and white “this bit is good, this bit is bad” conventional style post would be to paint too plain a picture of this ponderous, futuristic fantasy story.

It’s probably important to lay out some context at least before even attempting to dissect the individual elements of the neo-noir tale. What I can say straight off the bat is that it isn’t a good film. An ambitious one, highly influenced by Gosling’s work with directors like Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance, but lacking in the final execution of its concept.

It’s set in what appears to be the not-too-distant future, in a Detroit that was devastated by an apparent natural disaster or flood, much akin to certain parts of New Orleans post-hurricane Katrina. Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her sons Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and Franky (Landyn Stewart) remain behind as virtually everyone else gradually deserts the city. Bones spends his time looking for scrap metal to earn a pittance to help his mum save their family home. However, he soon learns to avoid his foe, the psychotic Bully (Matt Smith) who runs the slums, but he does make friends with Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who lives at home with her mute grandmother, played by the legendary Barbara Steele. With Billy struggling to pay her bills to Dave (Ben Mendehlson), the bank manager, he suggests she joins him at a bizarre violent nightclub show, before convincing her to work alongside Cat (Eva Mendes). Yeah, don’t worry, it is as weird, lucid and aimless as it sounds.

Let’s begin with the films key component: its director. Whatever the name Ryan Gosling means to you – whether it’s that kid from the Disney club, that good looking romantic film actor chap your girlfriend wishes you were, Derek Cianfrance’s apparent muse or the guy who stomped some bloke to death in that neon-soaked Nicolas Winding Refn movie – he’s one of the world’s most instantly recognisable film stars around today. Popular with critics and those in the business (receiving an Oscar nomination for Half Nelson) as well as more general film fans alike for the roles he’s played; as diverse as a cross-dressing manic potential-wife-killer in All Good Things, and presidential candidate George Clooney’s staffer embroiled in the dirty side of politics in The Ides of March. He’s young, famous, good looking and popular.

And he’s good at what he does. More than good. Great, even. He’s one of the most popular actors currently working and a major movie star for a reason. However, it’s perhaps to his credit in many ways that with his directorial debut, he resisted the temptation to cast himself in the lead role (or any role at all), as financially frugal as it may have been. Although clearly the project means a great deal to him, after all Gosling not only directed but also wrote and produced Lost River. If he were in any of the major roles, it probably would’ve ended up being another stick to beat him with. As we’ve seen other relatively young and well respected actors turn their hand to making movies after decades of starring in them, such as Joseph Gordon Levitt in Don Jon and Keanu Reeves in Man of Tai Chi, who have in turn cast themselves in a starring role, not everyone can get away with it.

The fact that Ryan Gosling is not acting in the film is not one of its problems. Instead, what for all intents and purposes ruins Lost River, leaving it as desolate and vacant as the Detroit it portrays, is its incredibly weak meandering plot. Characters are little more than one dimensional moving images, disappointingly wasting the talent of its cast. For example. casting Matt Smith as the menacing Bully was a risk that so nearly paid off, yet due to the shallow writing, leaves him as little more than a scissor-happy scally. Smith’s performance is unlike any I’ve ever seen from him before; certainly it’s a million miles away from the time lord he’s most famous for. But it just doesn’t work. Whether it’s due to his performance or an underwritten part is debatable.

The same could almost be said for every member of the cast. Ben Mendelsohn is without question the most talented member of the entire bunch, yet has barely enough to do other than act slightly odd, squandering away any gravitas or emotional depth he could have brought given a better opportunity. Much like Eva Mendes who could have been the star but is rather unceremoniously squashed into the background. Similarly, Christina Hendricks and Iain De Caestecker’s mother / son relationship was the epitome of lightweight. The best word I can think of to describe their appearances on screen together is “brief”. It’s rushed, pushed to one side, quickly skimmed through to get to more delicate images of brutal urban decay.

Which isn’t a problem strictly reserved for only this part of the film. Every line of dialogue is unnatural, which I know may seem unfair given it’s a neo- fantasy film, therefore of course it’s unrealistic. Right? Well, wrong. I’m afraid that doesn’t excuse the fact that no line is delivered in a convincing or believable manner. Stilted readings as if someone is holding up a cue card for them to read their bits from, akin to Marlon Brando in Superman, which is then cut down further in the edit so you get at most six or seven word sentences in two minute barrages between yet more (admittedly well shot) dreary bleak soulless landscapes.

Two weeks back, I thought Lost River was all right but nothing more, nothing less. Having now mulled it over, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to describe who would enjoy this or who it is meant for. Its lack of substance and nuance makes it too flimsy for an art-house crowd. The dissociated abstract nature leaves it too inaccessible for the mainstream audience. As unfortunate as it may be, it isn’t a surprise that Lost River has virtually bombed both financially and critically. If Gosling can find his own unique identity, use this project as a learning curve and come back stronger, there’s enough here to suggest it could lead to better things. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Lost River may have dropped out of cinemas by now, but is available for rent on VOD and released on DVD at the beginning of June.

Failed Critics Podcast: Age of Ultron

hulkWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast as we use our words to describe the eleventh and latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron! This week we also celebrate our third birthday (hip hip!)

Joining Steve and Owen for this extravaganza is the returning Carole Petts, for the first time on a proper feature podcast this year – although she has appeared on our Avengers Minisodes and reviewed Age of Ultron on the site of course! Also on this episode is Matt Lambourne, fresh from the humiliating defeat in our very own Quizcast.

We start off the podcast as always with a short quiz (shorter than last week, anyway), followed by a very special triple bill. The team were each assigned a random actor from Age of Ultron and pick the three films featuring those actors that they’d like to share. We also have the return of Spoiler Alert at the very end of the podcast. But don’t worry if you’ve not seen the film yet! We retain our usual spoiler-free review before that if you’d just like to know if the film is any good or not.

Join us again next week as we take a look at what else has managed to miraculously squeeze its way into the cinema whilst Marvel have a film out.



Cobain: Montage of Heck

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

I know that in some quarters of the internet and out there in the real world, Kurt Cobain (and Nirvana specifically) are seen as “overrated”. Bracketed into that “good at the time but we’ve moved on now” category by folk who either simply don’t like Nirvana or feel that they somehow grew out of the whole angsty grunge rock thing that went on during their youth. Great as a band who completely changed the sound of mainstream music in an era where 6 minute guitar solos and hair metal were inescapable, but just don’t fit in to a modern world some 25 years later. Once good, now dated. Over. Rated.

But that’s not me. I fucking love Nirvana. Come As You Are was the first riff I properly learnt how to play on guitar, their songs were what me and my friends covered when we jammed together, and they’re the songs I still play first even now whenever I sporadically pick up a guitar. They changed everything for me personally, from the way I’d dress to the bands I’d listen to. Pixies, Wipers, The Meat Puppets, Husker Du; they are in my album collections because of Nirvana. I have very fond memories of discovering their music, arguing why In Utero is their best album (because it just is OK?!) and wandering around the grottiest parts of Wolverhampton looking for the market with the guy who sells the Outcesticide bootlegs.

This may sound controversial, and I can understand why, but I doubt there’ll ever be a better band; better musically, lyrically, influentially, whatever category you like. There are very few bands that equal their talent, their output and their influence, albeit in my heavily biased opinion. They’ve been my favourite band probably since around the age of 13, and they still are at the age of 28 (fuck me, I’m older than Kurt was when he died, that’s a depressing realisation). So, obviously, I was very excited about the idea of a proper documentary exploring Kurt’s life using actual archived unseen home videos and recordings. Crucially, making it stand out from all of the rest, it being the only documentary that was produced with the cooperation of his family.

To that extent, it’s a powerful, emotionally draining and thoroughly engrossing documentary. Director Brett Morgen had unprecedented access to stacks of personal family home videos, exclusive interviews with Kurt’s former friends, girlfriends and family members, as well as rare unheard recordings and demos. For those unaware, the film’s title, Montage of Heck, comes from a cassette tape that Kurt recorded in his youth, mixing songs, clips and weird noises. It seems somehow prophetic that his journal scribbles, sketches, audio recordings and tapings would be stitched together someday and shared with the world in this way. Seeing as much of a full picture as is possible in this format, not just a glimmer of the real man behind the myth; the so-called voice of an apathetic, disassociated youth culture who hated themselves and wanted to die. It’s a very emotionally raw and moving documentary.

Witnessing a particular video that was shot towards the end of Kurt’s short life, clearly stoned out of his mind in a barely conscious state as he tries to hold his infant daughter steady as his wife, Courtney Love, gives her a haircut; it’s deeply distressing. Not only because you’re seeing a man in no fit state to be looking after a child, but because of all of the footage you’ve seen up to that point. To watch this once creative man, this bright light, dim to such a weak ember, is the true tragedy being told here.

Allowing family members and those close to Kurt to have their say in what he was like, it means you get to see not just Kurt the musician, but Kurt the father, the husband, the artist who just wants to stop being a rock icon or considered the voice of a generation. By no means a saint, but a real human being. You learn through the 140 minute run time to discard those old flippant comments you’ve probably read in the interviews he gave, things he’d said that never really gave you much of an impression of what he was really like beyond the fact he hated interviews and the constant prying into his personal affairs and accusations from journalists.

From the videos of him as the blue eyed, blonde haired, carefree toddler, always smiling, playing and singing, on to being the troubled pot-smoking teenager who was passed about from relative to relative because nobody could be arsed to really put in the effort to help him. Right the way through to Nirvana suddenly taking off like a rocket. It all just stings a little. Whatever your opinion about Nirvana’s music is, it’s difficult to watch these private moments of a man who is no longer in this world after taking his own life. An interview with his mum where she describes the first time that Kurt played to her the master copy of Nirvana’s seminal album, Nevermind, it just sends chills down your spine.

On top of all this, you have Cobain’s own music sound tracking the whole production. Sometimes using the actual Nirvana recordings, some stuff recognisable from various bootlegs, live shows, early demos or covers. At first, it did seem slightly jarring. Soundtracking clips from when he was 3 years old with tracks from In Utero shouldn’t have worked, but actually it fit in place snugly. They also animated stories / narrations from his own recordings in the early part of the documentary to fill in gaps where there was no archival footage, which also suited the tone quite well, giving proceedings an almost fantasy-like or mythical atmosphere.

I don’t think that there’s much in the early part of the film that will be new to viewers who already know a bit about Cobain’s upbringing (being shipped from mother, to father and step-mom, to aunts, uncles, grandparents and so on) but it’s still affecting to see honest interviews with these people. It’s well documented that Kurt and his dad didn’t get on, but to see his actual father getting close to tears when thinking about the time he turfed his own son out of their home, both he and his wife (Kurt’s step-mom) blaming themselves to some degree, it gets to you. As does pretty much the whole movie.

montage of heck

What it does lack is a certain something by not having Chad Channing, Pat Smear or more importantly Dave Grohl there at all aside from in old clips. They aren’t interviewed nor really recognised in any way, although in the case of Grohl, it’s fairly obvious why he wouldn’t want to appear given his ongoing legal battles with Courtney Love.

Nor for that matter does it have any interviews with Kurt’s daughter Frances, who co-exec produced the film. But, whether there’s anything for her to add really doesn’t seem clear as it’s a documentary celebrating Kurt’s life rather than his legacy as such. Krist Novoselic, however, does feature in part. Particularly in the second quarter of the movie as its focus shifts to the adolescent Kurt Cobain, during Nirvana’s formation and their meteoric rise. Krist then disappears for a while once Courtney Love makes her first appearance, reflecting what happened in real life in some ways, but it’s a shame he doesn’t really come back into the narrative again. The tensions on the group during their European tour could’ve made for some fascinating material, but I guess that just wasn’t the direction they wanted to take the documentary in. Its intentions are clearly to honour Cobain’s memory rather than drag up old long-since forgotten petty arguments between friends.

If you’ve read any biographies on Kurt Cobain, then you’ll notice Montage of Heck skims some of the more destructive aspects of his life. It doesn’t really cover the Sub Pop / Geffen “selling out” saga, the aforementioned bust-ups between the band, any interviews with Butch Vig or Steve Albini, or anything after he came out of the coma in Rome. It also feels kind of disappointing at the end in not attempting to offer up any real personal opinions from people like his mother, his friends, Courtney or Krist about why Kurt took his life when he did. We find out about his failed suicide attempt and reading between the lines of what Courtney says, that he was terrified of being alone and losing his family, you can just about stitch things together on your own.

However, the whole documentary allows you to see his life as it’s presented; the things he accomplished and the things he perhaps fucked up, and that allows you to make up your own mind about what might’ve been going on with him towards the final year or so of his life – or even to not care at all and just appreciate what he gave whilst he was around, maybe.

Essentially, Kurt seemed like a relatively normal, happy, fun kind of guy who had a difficult home life, but who also fit into the cliché of the tormented artist. Not through choice; he didn’t seem pretentious, like he wanted to be perceived as the tortured genius but in reality wasn’t. But because he was this creative genius who could’ve done almost anything he wanted to do. And pretty much did, I guess. He became the most famous rock star in the world and had the family he always wanted, even if it was for such a short amount of time. He even got to achieve his dream of making millions of dollars and becoming a junkie, as Courtney Love recounts during one of her many interviews.

Sadly, we all know how the story ends so there’s always that looming presence of his eventual suicide foreshadowing every clip, every anecdote. It just makes it all the more harder to see him when he was happy, when he wasn’t suffering from his chronic stomach pain or drug addiction. The happiest time of his life doesn’t even appear to be when he was making music, or when he was playing live or hanging out with band members and friends. From the way it’s portrayed in the documentary, Kurt lived his life fullest when in seclusion with Courtney Love for the six months prior to Frances being born and the few months after. He’s at his most human, his most relatable when seen alive in these moments. He’s young, in love and scared as he may be, he’s just not the junkie manic depressive his reputation is sometimes perceived to be.

I’ve lambasted other similar documentaries about deceased famous and influential people in the past for simply feeling like tributes. Which is nice an’ all, but very rarely makes for interesting viewing and sometimes comes off as mawkish and sappy. I think Montage of Heck avoids that pitfall as well as can be expected. If you are in any way shape or form a fan of Nirvana, or simply know nothing about the man and want to learn more, Montage of Heck is definitely worth anybody’s time.

US Box Office Report: 24/04/15 – 26/04/15

The Age of Adeline is not upon us, Little Boy makes child-sized money… basically, filmgoers opted to not see the crap that came out this week, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

…look, nothing came out this week.  It’s the weekend before The Avengers, or it is the weekend of The Avengers if you live in the specially designated half of the world, and every movie studio worth their salt knows that you release jack in the week before and after that Galactus-sized money-hoover.  After all, what’s the point when The Avengers will just swallow up any and all potential revenue for your film near-immediately?  This does make me question why Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 are opening two weeks after instead of three to make absolutely certain that they can bank a nice amount of cash… but, then, I’m not the guy who has to deal with the utterly ridiculous Summer 2015 release schedule, so what do I know?

In fact, side note: can 2015 just end after the weekend of May 15th?  Like, just stop and move onto 2016?  I’m seeing Mad Max: Fury Road and, more importantly, Pitch Perfect 2 on the same day with the bestest and closest friend I have, who’s also staying for the weekend.  The year’s not going to get any better than that, it may as well just pack up and go home.  Anyways…

So, since nothing came out, audiences decided to take one last ride with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and the whole gang before The Avengers supplants the “surrogate family”-driven film fix that we all so desperately crave.  Furious 7 held onto the top spot for the 4th weekend in a row with $18 million in ticket sales.  Close behind it – OK, about $2.5 million behind it, but that’s still way too close for me – was the excretable Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 which somehow retained 65% of its opening weekend audience and came away with $15.5 million in ticket sales.  It’s still trailing how the first Paul Blart was doing at this time by about $20 million, but that still doesn’t guarantee that we are safe from a sequel just yet.  I mean, we already got one!  I now have to go through my life in constant fear that Kevin James might force another one of these upon me!  I don’t like living in fear, you guys!

In any case, some films did come out this week.  It’s just that, like Paul Blart, they all stank to high heaven.  Widest-releasing, and therefore the one that actually charted, was The Age of Adeline, a film so confident in its construction and qualities that it actually lists one of its two screenwriters twice on its poster.  (EDIT: my good friend Jackson Tyler has informed me that it’s a WGA thing.  Still seems weird and ridiculous, mind.)  It actually beat Furious 7 on Friday, until everybody collectively realised that they could be watching good movies instead, where upon it finished the weekend in third with about $13 million in ticket sales.  Next up was Little Boy, a film that… you know what, how about I just post the Wikipedia synopsis and see how long it takes for you to realise why this film has not exactly won over the critical press…

The story centers on a 7-year-old boy, Pepper Flynt Busbee, who uses magic powers produced by his faith to end World War II and bring his father home.

yeah.  It only managed $2.8 million from 1,045 screens for a pathetic $2,708 per-screen average.  Then we have Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner.  Despite, according to himself, being a much more talented movie director than any other movie director alive today, because he’s been in 41 movies which means he knows more about directing than someone like Ridley Scott, nobody much seemed to care about his movie.  The film managed a meh $1.25 million from 320 screens and a sub-$4,000 per-screen average.  But, hey, at least it wasn’t Child 44!  Poor, poor Child 44.  I’d feel kinda bad for both of these films if they weren’t so uninterestingly rubbish.

furious 7 2

The age of this Full List is none of your business, you rude young man!

Box Office Results: Friday 24th April 2015 – Sunday 26th April 2015

1] Furious 7

$18,259,000 / $320,536,000

This will close having out-grossed 2014’s actual Highest Grossing Film Domestically, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and what is technically its Highest Grossing Film Domestically, American Sniper.  More importantly, this week, and this is even with Age of Ultron coming in hot, it will become the 4th highest grossing film worldwide of all-time and has a good shot of closing extremely close to The Avengers’ $1.5 billion.  Once again, if I see ANY “The Box Office Is DYING!” think-pieces this year… words have not yet been invented that can convey the strength of my response.

2] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$15,500,000 / $43,950,000

Now, I realise that I didn’t provide an actual professional or traditional review of this film when I subjected myself to it a few weeks back.  Some of you may wish for a second review, one that actually discusses the movie and properly conveys its various qualities and failings.  Well, you are in luck, cos I’ve got one right here for you!  Are you ready?

(*hits head on desk repeatedly for about 5 minutes*)

That’s your professional review of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

3] The Age of Adeline

$13,375,000 / NEW

Age of Ultron has already banked $201 million at the countries it managed to roll out to this past weekend.  Think it has any chance of breaking $2 billion?  Think it has any chance of breaking the $200 million opening weekend the first Avengers had in America?  All of this, I feel, depends on whether everybody agrees with Owen – who really doesn’t like it and is wrong – or myself – who finds it great but doesn’t love it like he did the first one, and is right.  Time will tell soon enough, folks.  Time will tell.

4] Home

$8,300,000 / $153,784,000

Despite being a legitimate success, Home has only just now been able to double its production budget worldwide.  Goddamn, even when they have a success, DreamWorks are still constantly teetering on the verge of oblivion!  Kung Fu Panda 3 was moved to late-January, recently, and I’m still worried that that’s going to crash and burn!  Do you see what you’re doing to me, DreamWorks?  DO YOU?!  Don’t you dare go dying on me now, ya hear!

5] Unfriended

$6,244,000 / $25,158,000

So this is apparently actually good?  Well, not if you believe the public – this has plummeted 60% between weekends – but the public wouldn’t know a good horror movie if it appeared out of nowhere and inflicted some kind of blender-based violence upon them; they mostly rejected It Follows, after all.  According to critics and horror fans, this is apparently rather good.  Huh, colour me surprised.  I’ll know for certain, in any case, when I subject Lucy to it this coming Friday.

6] Ex Machina

$5,441,000 / $6,920,000

Oh, yeah, this movie!  This actually expanded nationwide after a string of strong reviews and a fantastic pair of limited release weekends, so for a hard sci-fi with next-to-no real advertising behind it and only critical and art-house buzz this is a really good performance!  Yay for Alex Garland!  I don’t love this film like everyone else – mainly because, in typical Alex Garland fashion, he drops the ball on the ending, and there are a few structural choices that undermine its strongest thematic through-line – but I’m happy to see him do well.

7] The Longest Ride

$4,365,000 / $30,398,000

This has now done better than The Best (THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST) of Me, but is still one of the lowest-grossing Nicholas Sparks adaptations ever.  Can we finally put this guy’s brand/schtick out to pasture now?  Please?

8] Get Hard

$3,905,000 / $84,066,000

Because I know that some of you are curious: “Lucy” is Lucy Meer, my co-host of Screen 1, Monday nights at 9PM BST on Hullfire Radio.  The fact that you don’t know that means that you don’t listen, and that fact hurts my feelings.

9] Monkey Kingdom

$3,551,000 / $10,258,000

Monkeys are amazing.  That is all.

10] Woman In Gold

$3,501,000 / $21,635,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good video shops on July 27th.

Dropped Out: Insurgent, Cinderella

Callum Petch can’t read about it, burns the skin from his eyes.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Into The Bunker (S2:E2)

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @Callum Petch)

Spoilers of varying degrees for Gravity Falls abound throughout this article, up to and including a short scene from Season 2 Episode 8 “Blendin’s Game”.  You are strongly advised to go and watch Gravity Falls before reading this article.  Trust me.

gravity falls“Mabel, how can everything be so amazing and so terrible all at the same time?” – Dipper Pines

Throughout Secondary School, I had a crush on a very close friend of mine.  From pretty much the moment I saw her, I was rather head-over-heels – she was funny, tough, kind, smart, good-looking, and she voluntarily chose to acknowledge and associate with me, which meant a lot since my first year or so at Secondary School was a relentlessly lonely and miserable experience otherwise.  We hung out a lot, talked a lot, there were frequent out-of-school-hours email conversations (not IM or anything like that cos have I ever mentioned that I was a really weird kid), and became really rather close.

I also never properly told her how I felt.  I hinted a lot, wrote godawful blatantly manipulative blog posts expressing my feelings hoping that she’d never read them but steering her towards them anyway (because goddamn was I ever a sh*tty teenager), and one time – during a really, really stupid idea that our school only implemented once – I bought her a Valentine’s Day rose from our school reception and explained it away as a friendship thing.  She almost certainly figured it out because I was nowhere near as subtle as I thought I was and she was not stupid, but we never openly acknowledged it, as if we realised that bringing it into the open would make things uncomfortably weird.  And I planned to never tell her, because I could live with just being her friend.

Except that I couldn’t.  I really couldn’t.  Save for one very short and incredibly bad experience at the outset of Secondary School – another reason why my first year or so was awkward and horrible – I had never had a girlfriend (still haven’t to this day), but Secondary School is Secondary School and damn near every last one of my friends – and the majority of the people I was at least on good speaking terms with – ended up in romances of varying degrees of seriousness and success, which left me feeling left out and lonely, because I never had that experience.  Further compounding the problem was that, as friends of mine typically tend to do, we started drifting further apart the older we got, going from tight-knit buddies in Year 8 to very occasional acquaintances by Year 10.

Having realised this, and likely spurred on by the fact that my crush on her just would not die, I asked if she could meet me one lunchtime to talk.  I couldn’t have been any vaguer or, as far as my memory recalls, slightly creepy, which would have been part of the reason why she never turned up.  I took this incredibly personally.  Soon after, I arranged, through the school’s Student Services, to have her meet me for about half an hour so I could get an explanation and tell her everything, as if that would somehow change things.  That second part didn’t happen.  Instead, I non-specifically and non-committedly alluded to things in sh*tty ways, refused to accept her excuse of her having her own life and her own friends, and generally acted like a horribly possessive jerk.  The meeting ended with neither of us satisfied and, for the remaining 18 months of Secondary School and 2 years of Sixth Form that we shared, we basically never spoke to each other again.

You know how I said earlier that I was a sh*tty teenager?  That transcends just being a sh*tty teenager, for me; that was me being a pure bona-fide grade-A asshole.  I have regretted everything to do with it for the past five and a bit years.  I regretted it the moment I stepped out of that room and I still did nothing to make it right due to the resultant awkwardness between us keeping me from trying to make amends no matter how much time passed.  Seeing her was just this constant reminder of how badly I screwed up and how utterly sh*tty of a person I was, how I refused to just accept being friends with her instead of slightly creepily possessively crushing on her, and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for it.

The Dipper Pines-Wendy Corduroy runner throughout the first season of Gravity Falls – where the 12 year-old Dipper develops a major crush on the 15 year-old Wendy – is a very divisive subject for fans of the show.  In one camp, it’s a funny, sweet, and often painful to watch plotline that constantly finds new ways to cover seemingly old ground, and excellently and realistically handles the difficulty of being friends with somebody you are quite possibly in love with, especially accentuated by the fact that, since Wendy is 3 years older than Dipper, there is only one way this story can end.  In the other camp, it’s pointless re-treading of familiar ground that wastes Wendy’s character potential by limiting her solely to stories about Dipper’s crush on her and her relationship with jerk-ass teenager Robbie, especially since there’s only one way this story can end so why bother dragging it out.

I fall into the former camp and it’s because of my experience with that girl – whose name I haven’t divulged here because she deserves better than being associated with my dickishness.  That extended awkward push-pull between having a crush that causes you tangible physical anxiety every time you accidentally think of them in that way, versus wanting to not blow that friendship you’ve built up with them by openly admitting that feeling to them, is excellently represented in Dipper Pines, which in turn resonates deeper in me and causes multiple conflicting feelings every time the plotline is brought up.  I sympathise with Dipper’s situation, I cringe and suffer along with him whenever he puts his foot in his mouth, I laugh at his jealous hallucinations of people like Robbie, I desperately root for him to beat his crush or to just admit to Wendy his true feelings, since I’d gone through all of this before myself – just without the age gap as she was in the same year as me.

It helps that Dipper shares multiple aspects with me when it comes to this type of thing: he stumbles over his own words frequently, he overthinks and over-plans every last scenario because he’s terrified of failure, he’s at his best when he just lets the situation overtake him, and he will never admit the truth to Wendy because he’s afraid of what will happen, but he also can’t just stay friends at this moment in time because the crush is killing him.  This is not meant to short-change Wendy, incidentally, who is a funny, cool, sarcastic, well-rounded and flawed character who feels like a person, someone who clearly exists outside of the show’s usage of her.  These two are incredibly well-drawn characters who feel real and that extra resonance that I have with the material wouldn’t be there if that depth wasn’t there.

This all comes to a head in “Into The Bunker”, the second episode of Season 2.  It starts off like it’s going to be yet another episode in which Dipper trips over his feelings, which I don’t have a problem with as again this kind of constant circling really can happen, in a B-Plot whilst the A-Plot pushes forward the overarching mysteries of Gravity Falls, Oregon – which are way too numerous and in-depth to touch on here; seriously, this show has the kind of attention to continuity and plotting (without ever sacrificing them at the expense of character work) that would make most live-action adult dramas feel like they’re half-assing it.

Instead, the mysteries of Gravity Falls take a backseat to bringing this runner to its logical end-game.  Despite his insistence otherwise, Dipper cannot keep hanging out with Wendy without telling her of his feelings.  When he exposes Robbie’s deception and brainwashing in “Boyz Crazy”, he’s mainly doing it out of selfish desires of wanting to have Wendy to himself, although he doesn’t realise so until after he pushes his luck too far.  By “Into The Bunker”, it’s reached breaking point, he even brings along his planned feelings speech, that he scrunched up at the beginning of the episode, in his jacket pocket because he can’t let it go.  His twin sister Mabel, fed up with all of this and realising that the sooner that he admits his feelings to Wendy the better, proceeds to shove the pair of them into what turns out to be a Decontamination Chamber to make sure that Dipper has no way of avoiding the issue.

In the end, his constant dodging and inability to come right out and admit his feelings nearly gets himself and Wendy killed by a shape-shifter, and he once again only realises this when he thinks that she’s been killed.  Running from his problems has solved nothing and if it hadn’t turned out that the ‘dead’ Wendy was actually the shape-shifter and that the real Wendy was just off-screen and heard every word of Dipper’s anguished and regretful admission of his true feelings, then he would have gone through the rest of his life carrying that regret and guilt, never letting him go.  It is, to me at least, the literalising of what metaphorically happened to me, as my refusal to just come out and say it cost me one of the strongest friendships that I ever had.

That’s what makes the conclusion of the episode so goddamn beautiful to me.  With the truth now out in the open, Wendy and Dipper sit down and talk.  They actually talk.  Wendy admits that she kinda always knew – “You think I can’t hear that stuff you’re constantly whispering under your breath?” – she lets him down easy, Dipper understands, and the two resolve to remain friends because that, above all else, is what matters out of all of this.  And though Dipper doesn’t actually feel any better at the time by getting these feelings out in the open, the change sticks and Wendy’s subsequent appearances with the gang exist in awkwardness-free purely platonic friendship stakes.  Hell, to further drive home the point, when Dipper and Mabel travel back in time about 10 years in “Blendin’s Game” and bump into younger versions of Wendy and Tambry, he feels super-awkward when Young Wendy mentions how cute he is, as if he now understands how he made Wendy feel.

And as I sat there watching the conclusion of “Into The Bunker”, through non-stop waterfalls of tears, the awful way that I handled the first friendship that I made in Secondary School came into clear-as-day focus.  I always knew that I treated her sh*ttily, that I should have handled the situation better, that I was as pure an asshole as they come with regards to how things ended, but I don’t think I realised the extent of it and how much different things could have been until Gravity Falls laid it out in front of me like that.  Because Dipper and Wendy are so well-drawn, because the writing felt so natural, because I saw so much of myself and my own experiences in the story’s progression, it hit me like a jackhammer-shaped freight train when the inevitable conclusion came around.  “I should have just told her and moved on,” I thought to myself constantly over the next several days as the episode refused to leave my brain.  “The aftermath may not have been as smooth, but at least we could have moved on.  At least we may still have been friends.”

There is a tonne more to “Into The Bunker” – the absolutely terrifying John Carpenter’s The Thing-referencing shape-shifter villain, the outstanding animation, the way that the narrative excellently pulls the bait-and-switch on the seemingly answers-focussed plotline in favour of character-work, the badassery of Wendy, the way it balances horror and drama with comedy, The Gravity Falls Bargain Movie Showcase – and they are all individually reason enough as to why the episode could be inducted into this wing of Failed Critics, but they’re not the reason why this episode hits me so.  It’s the payoff.  It was always going to be the payoff, and though the show has and will improve even on this in the years to come – “Not What He Seems” exists, after all – for me it’s probably never going to top that final scene in the woods where Dipper and Wendy sit on the fallen tree branch and just talk.  No other scene in television is going to hit me like that scene did the first time.

In a perfect world, I would have been more like Dipper Pines in that moment, where I accepted what happened, accepted the consequences, moved on, and tried to retain that friendship.  I didn’t do that.  That will stick with me for the rest of my days, but at least I know that Dipper will be OK.  He did it right.  One of us did.

Callum Petch has got love to kill from a man of steel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

It’s Getting A Bit ‘Diane Sawyer’

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Full Disclosure: this piece is written by somebody who has never attended a press event of any sort in his life.

By now, you have probably seen or heard about Robert Downey, Jr. walking out of his interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News after the latter took their Avengers: Age of Ultron interview off-script and instead started pushing the former to answer questions about a quote he made about not being a “liberal” from roughly 7 years ago, his past experiences with drug addiction, and his father.  If you haven’t seen it, maybe don’t watch it, since it gives Channel 4 and Guru-Murthy exactly what they want, but I will admit that it’s rather entertaining seeing Downey, Jr. forcefully resist his clearly-mounting urge to punch Guru-Murthy in the face.

The thing’s been sat in my head all-day, now – I’m writing this on Thursday – and it annoys me for multiple reasons.  The first is that Guru-Murphy was just awful during this thing.  For a professional journalist, you’d think that he’d do a better job of reading the situation, realising that his interview is going to end very abruptly unless he changed tactics fast, and work to get Downey, Jr. to open up more.  There’s also the fact that his questions were terrible – the addiction and father situations have been covered most everywhere else before and there’s nothing to gain from going back down those holes again, and the quote thing was almost as stupid as when he sincerely asked Richard Ayoade whether he felt he was a role model for British Norwegians (not joking, and you should watch that interview because Ayoade is amazing in it) – and that he asked them like a kid who’s been called into the principal’s office for punishment.

The second reason is because a promotional interview is not the time or place to conduct hard-hitting journalism.  This is what Quentin Tarantino explicitly noted during that famous Guru-Murthy interview from two years back: a press interview is an advertisement for a film.  It’s where the film’s stars and/or directors are shunted along a conveyer belt from interview to interview, getting anywhere between 5 or 10 minutes to answer the same or incredibly similar inane questions about their film over and over again, having to reveal new titbits each time lest they appear overly mechanical, in order to drum up buzz about the film they’re selling.  It’s long, exhausting, and an advertisement.

So read: not the time to pry into an actor’s personal life if they’re not up for it, which they likely aren’t because they’re tired and would rather be literally anywhere else at this point.  Best case scenario: they play along reluctantly or say something stupid that they have to spend the next week or so apologising for.  Worst case scenario: the interviewee correctly gets angry at you and walks out.  The time and place for such things are in actual interviews about said subject, expressly arranged with the intention of being about them and their personal life.  Ambush interviewing does not work at an advertisement.  In fact, Channel 4 aren’t even allowed to promote products and, since a promotional interview is about promoting a product, that leads to the question of why Guru-Murthy and crew were even there in the first place.

A question with the answer of 3,819,824 as of 9:27pm on Thursday the 23rd of April, in case you’re wondering.

But then this led to the third reason why this whole thing annoys me… why do we still have press interviews like this nowadays?  I don’t mean like this specific example, but I mean in general.  Why do we still have them on this kind of scale?  In this era of cinema where marketing and promotion for major Hollywood blockbusters can begin years before the first official teaser trailer has dropped and not let up until well after the film has been released, where most big stars are on some kind of social media, and where certain films are in the news damn near every single day, do we really need to send the cast of a film on a whirlwind tour of 800 million press outlets anymore?

Look, sometimes you strike gold – you get things like Christian Bale singing The Powerpuff Girls theme song, or Joss Whedon expanding upon his Jurassic World tweet, or Chris Rock spending his entire press tour for Top Five dropping truth bombs the size of Ultron’s prospective box office – but most times you just get stars who are tired and uninterested and journalists/interviewers who can’t go too far off-script because that’s not what these are for and you run the risk of pissing off the interviewee or, even worse for your outlet, the studio.  That’s likely why you get sequences in which places like Digital Spy won’t call out Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans for jokingly – although that does not make it OK, I must stress – calling Black Widow a “slut” and being insinuatingly ablest during their own interview; they have to leave it to the full force of the Internet Outrage Machine, instead.

So, why do we still have them?  Why go to that expense?  Much like the “why did Channel 4 news bother to go” question, the answer to this one is also very simple: because the film industry is still tightly controlled and things like this are still seen as important to Hollywood.  In the same way that The Oscars will nearly always matter because Hollywood continues to insist that they do, promotional interviews will continue to matter because Hollywood believes that they are still a vital part of the marketing cycle.  And in a way, they are – you need to drum up excitement for a film, and short soundbite-ready interview sessions are a good way of doing so.  After all, if yours is the lucky film and outlet whose interview contains something that goes viral, then you don’t have to worry about a lack-of-attention over the next week.  Plus, nothing makes a foreign market feel valued like having a movie star grace it with their presence, apparently.

If Hollywood says something’s important, then it’s important, even when it usually isn’t.  Surprising nobody, I’d prefer it if this kind of thing was either severely minimised or scrapped completely since these almost never provide anything of particular interest or substance, like one could get in a real interview, and the sheer gruelling marathon that the process is for those being interviewed keeps them from really letting loose and having fun in ways that people like myself like seeing them be.  It’s the worst of both worlds, but it’s sadly a game that we will all continue to play regardless because the overlords of the film industry deem it necessary.  The best thing that all involved can do by now I guess is grin and bear it, and maybe not try and force it into something it’s not in ways that make you look like a pompous asshat.  It’s an advertisement, after all, not Frost/Nixon.

Callum Petch be the type to always beat ya to the punch faster.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

url2 Let’s not mess around here – if you’re a Marvel fan, two things are all but guaranteed.  Firstly, you will have likely loved Avengers (in the UK it was called Avengers Assemble, but my version just says Avengers, and AA is a silly name, so there) and rated it high in Marvel Studios’ output so far, if not top of the pile.  Following on from that, you will go and see Age of Ultron regardless of what anyone says.  That’s fine!  But I need to say something straight away – you will not get the same giddy thrill from this film that you got from Avengers.  Save for a shot (shown in the trailer) of the entire team flying towards an unknown enemy in the first two minutes – a nod back to the climatic battle of Avengers – this film is about moving the team and the universe forward, for better or worse.

The film opens with the afore-mentioned battle, a mission to retrieve a artefact we’ve met before in the series.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) realises the implications of this – the idea of Avengers has always been to eventually render them surplus to requirements by seeing off all threats.  Throw in a little encounter with a pair of newcomers along the way – Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the need to protect the world before any of the team perish becomes more urgent.  With the help of an unconvinced Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he creates probably his most impressive invention yet, but quickly realises he is out of his depth as his creation threatens the world.  Thus the stage is set for an epic battle which takes in mind control (pitting Avengers against each other to divide and conquer) and some truly mighty action sequences.

And the sequences are huge.  The action scenes in Avengers felt slightly small in scale until the climatic Battle of New York, but here they are amplified, taking in whole cities and towns at a time.  The much-vaunted Hulk vs Hulkbuster smackdown is an excellent piece of fight choreography, never spilling into Transformers territory (“I don’t know what’s going on”, “Why can’t they fit the whole robot into the screen”, etc.).  There’s a great sense of scale here – this is a global threat being realised globally, not funnelled through the metaphor of one city as shorthand.  The action travels from the fictional Eastern-European city of Sokovia to South Africa, South Korea and rural America.

In between big fight scenes, however, we do get a decent amount of character development.  This is especially concentrated around the Avengers who aren’t the subject of solo films – Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye all get significant amounts of screen time.  Hawkeye benefits the most, making up for his side-lining in Avengers with a fully realised back story.  This does mean that the big three of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor feel sidelined – there is a Thor sequence which sorely feels like it was chopped for running time, ultimately having no impact on the film but setting up Ragnarok instead.  In a film with at least 15 named and principle characters, this is going to be an occupational hazard.  It was managed well in Avengers, but that was with less leads – this can feel overburdened at times, with everyone from War Machine/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle, making the most of some very limited screen time) to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) popping up in slightly beefed-up cameos.  This leads me to my main gripe with the film – Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch feel like the chips you still have to eat after you’ve finished your burger.  It was a good idea when you ordered them, but now you’re looking at them and wondering if they were necessary.  Scarlet Witch does redeem herself somewhat during the final battle, and provides a handy jumping-off point for the creation of Ultron, but these beats could have been allocated elsewhere.

Having said that, the best new character doesn’t even exist for the first two-thirds of the film.  We’ve heard Paul Bettany as JARVIS for years, but he’s finally rewarded with a physical presence as Vision.  I really like Bettany and it was a real delight to see him here – Vision could look a bit more ethereal, but he nails the tone of the character completely and again makes the most of a small amount of screen time.  It probably helps that he gets the best “HELL YES!” moment of the entire film as well.

The main plaudits have to be saved for James Spader as Ultron.  Created to protect the world, he quickly realises the best way to do that is to eliminate the Avengers.  Spader’s crafty delivery is wonderful, and Ultron has the swagger of his motion-captured performance down – if you’ve ever watched Spader in anything, it’s easy to picture him instead of the menacing robot.  His wisecracking delivery makes him the son that Tony Stark has never had, and is a real highlight.

There are parts that don’t work.  A blossoming romantic subplot feels slightly unnecessary, and the whole thing at times feels overburdened by what it has to set up in context of the wider universe (the events of Civil War, Infinity War and the aforementioned Ragnarok are all foreshadowed here).  But ultimately it’s lots and lots of fun, despite being much darker than the first outing.  And that’s all we can ever really ask for from Marvel – it’s what they’ve done best for years, in print and now on film.

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 10 – Guardians of the Galaxy

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Welcome to the very last episode in our Avengers Minisode series! Here we take a look back on the second best film of 2014, as voted for by you in our Failed Critics Awards. I am of course referring to the spectacular space-adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

First conceived as a movie to enter the franchise back in 2009, when writer Nicole Perlman pretty much hand picked it herself, it wasn’t until 2012 that the ball really started rolling on production when director James Gunn was attached to the project. Released two years later, the film was a huge success for Marvel Studios, nearly quadrupling its budget by grossing approximately $774,000,000 worldwide – most of those ticket sales courtesy of our special guest for the retrospective review, Mike Shawcross, who saw the movie 23 times at the cinema!

Featuring the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro, it had an enormous ensemble cast that rivaled even that of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble some two years earlier. All of whom were fantastic in their individual ways as the MCU ventured into the realms of space-opera, with the Starlord and his “group of wrong-uns” attempting to stop the psychopathic Ronan the Accuser from getting his hands on a powerful orb containing an infinity stone and thus destroying the Nova Empire.

As through the rest of our Avengers Minisodes, this episode will feature clips and trailers, as well as retro review taken from an archived podcast released last year when we were joined by Carole Petts. As mentioned earlier, the brand new retrospective review sees occasional writer and podcast guest Mike Shawcross share his educated opinion on the film.

We’ll be back next week with a review of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, released here in the UK tomorrow!

You can look back at all of the episodes released as a part of our series here.

Warning: these minisodes may contain spoilers



Avengers Minisodes: Episode 9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

In the penultimate podcast of our Avengers Minisode series, we take a look back at 2014’s espionage thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. After a brief cameo from Chris Evans as Steve Rogers during Thor: The Dark World, here he returns to the role in full as catastrophe strikes when he uncovers a secret Hydra plot to take down SHIELD as his past comes back to haunt him.

Just as Iron Man did in his first sequel, Cap teams up with Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and new recruit Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), in a showdown against the mysterious Winter Soldier that sent ripples through the MCU. It was such a smash hit for directors Joe and Anthony Russo that as well as returning to direct the first film in Marvel’s Phase 3 next year, Captain America: Civil War, as well as taking on the responsibility for the next two Avengers films (Infinity War parts 1 & 2) after Age of Ultron. Something that we’re incredibly excited and pleased about!

As ever, this episode will feature clips and trailers from the film, as well as our original retro review from an older archived podcast featuring Carole Petts – apologies for the slightly poor audio quality. Don’t worry, though! It’s much better during our new retrospective review with Andrew Brooker, a self-confessed huge fan of Winter Soldier, as per his entry in our Decade In Film series.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers



(Hail Hydra)

Failed Critics Podcast: The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast

Welcome to the Failed Critics podcast– or should I say, “quizcast”! For the first time in Failed Critics history, we’re teaming up with some fellow podcasters for 60 minutes of quizzing.

With our regular host Steve Norman in the quiz master’s chair, it was up to Owen Hughes and Matt Lambourne to represent Failed Critics. Up against them, from the weekly film review podcast Black Hole Cinema, was Tony Black and Matt Latham. The third and final team on the quiz (and the only non-film related podcast) was Wikishuffle, with Jack Stewart, Chris Wallace and Phil Sharman. Claims of shenanigans were respectfully kept to a minimum, although promises to rein in competitiveness were hastily abandoned during the first round.

Feel free to play along and post your score in the comments box below – or tweet it to @FailedCritics, @Wikishufflepod or @BlackHoleCinema! There’s no prizes for beating us. Only pride and dignity are at stake here.

We’ll be back to normal next week with our Avengers: Age of Ultron podcast. Until then why not catch up with our special Avengers Minisode previews for Marvel’s next big blockbuster?



Avengers Minisodes: Episode 8 – Thor: The Dark World

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Our eighth Avengers Minisode takes a look back on director Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World. With a slightly larger budget than Brannagh’s first Thor film, this sequel attempts to expand on the epic fantasy adventure element by introducing the malevolent threat of the dark elves. An ancient species led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who harbour a grudge – and it’s up to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his earthly chums (Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and her intern) to stop them.

After everything that happened to disrupt the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe during Avengers Assemble, perhaps the one thing that viewers wanted to know above all else was what would now happen to everyone’s favourite villain, Loki? Escorted out of Midgard under lock and key by his brother at the end of that film, as you might expect he plays a key role in the plot here and Tom Hiddleston never fails to disappoint.

However, the film is not without its critics, including a few of our own as you can hear during our retro review with Owen, Steve and James taken from our podcast back when the film came out in October 2013. And our brand new retrospective review in this episode with Carole Petts is unsurprisingly no different.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers



Child 44

Bleak and depressing, but not for the reasons it should be.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

child 44 1“The film is never as good as the book”. I’ve spent so many hours arguing the point when people say that to me. Of course the book is better, it’s a book. It can make me spend 40 minutes reading about a few not-so-important details that a film, if it’s lucky, gets a minute or two to show me. “Just read the book, it’s much better”. Usually, the people that tell me that don’t, or can’t, appreciate what a filmmaker and his writers have to do to get those hundreds of detailed pages onto the screen and keep it interesting. Of course, that doesn’t excuse films like Eragon or The DaVinci Code in any way, shape or form from being the disgraceful waste of celluloid that they are, but as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be comparing the two.

Now I try, I really do, to read the books before I see the film, it’s just a habit I got into years ago. If I can’t, I try very hard to get it read later. So when more than a couple of friends, and my wife, insisted “don’t see the film until you’ve read the book” I made it a goal to get Child 44 read before the film came out this week. Sadly, I let them all down. As I write this, my Kindle is teasing me, essentially calling me a failure as it tells me I only got 54% of Tom Rob Smith’s Soviet set crime thriller read before I headed to my local multiscreen to take the lazy option and watch the rest of the book while I stuff my face with popcorn. So as much as I was hoping I could write this review as a comparison to the book and, good or bad, show just how fruitless some of these statements can be, it’s just a regular old review from me today I’m afraid.

Critically acclaimed book aside, and forgetting that the cynic in me knows that Child 44 is the first book in a trilogy and we all know how that’s going to play out, have you seen that cast list? It’s a veritable who’s who of modern greats that should all, someday, have a list of awards they’ve won long enough to fill one of those books we should be reading. Between them, the acting talents of the names on that one-sheet and their collective filmographies should pique the interest of almost anyone with even half an interest in movies. For the fourth time that I can recall, the amazingly talented (and personal favourite) Tom Hardy is sharing the screen with the sublime Gary Oldman, and whether or not you go into this film knowing or caring about the story, you know that with those two in the cast list, it’s going to be a spectacle worth spending your £12 on this weekend. It’s got to be. Right? Well….

Set in early 1950’s Stalinist Russia, Child 44 sees Tom Hardy take on the role of Leo Demidov, a survivor of Stalin’s famine based war on Ukraine of the 1930’s, a hero of the Second World War and a high ranking member of the MBG, the Russian Ministry of State Security, or as we, post-cold war would possibly call them, the Russian Secret Police. A man who loves the republic that he serves and follows orders blindly in an age where innocence doesn’t exist. An age where a person can be arrested, tortured and executed for almost anything that could be construed as “not in the best interests of the state”. Corruption is rife and to be on the wrong side of it more often than not means not being around very long to fight against it.

Leo finds himself on the worse side of the State’s law when he refuses to name is wife, Raisa, as a capitalist spy. Believing her name to have been planted on a list by envious, vindictive junior agent Vasili Nikitin, played by the surprisingly decent Joel Kinnaman, who’s out to teach Leo a lesson after he embarrassed him while on assignment. His refusal to denounce his wife leaves Leo exiled to a little industrial town and left under the command of Gary Oldman’s General Nesterov, the head of the militia and a man as proud and loyal to his country as he is suspicious of Leo and Raisa’s presence in his town. Together, Demidov and Nesteroy stumble upon a serial child killer case that has been brushed under the carpet by the Republic they both love so much and set out to right that wrong and bring a killer that no one in power seems interested in, to justice.

In a world where justice does not necessarily mean “justice”, Leo finds himself relying on his wits and his wife to solve these heinous crimes when he can’t call for help from a system he’s lived his life in complete obedience to. Instead, he must work outside of the law, skulking in the shadows, hoping and praying that he can keep one step ahead of those that seek his downfall while he tries to catch a killer that no one believes exists and he knows less than nothing about.

Now, everything about Child 44, on paper, sounds like the makings of an excellent thriller. It’s set in an interesting time, one we don’t see put to film very often and we rarely get to see the Russians depicted in such a bad light these days (maybe that statement explains why the film has been banned in Russia). A story focusing on something as horrible as a series of murdered children should have some real emotional pull and make every parent watching sit and hold their stomach in fear. And with all that talent on the poster, all that ability on the screen, it’s something I would have been comfortable guaranteeing to you without having seen the film.

Sadly, I have seen the film. And my only advice, is to not waste the near two and a half hours that I did hoping for the film we should have got to finally appear on the screen. There’s no way to drag it out, to be clever about saying it or to soften it so maybe you think it might be a film worth watching. Child 44, is a bad film. But it’s not just bad, it’s slow, it’s boring and being a fan of almost everyone on that cast list, it’s soul crushingly disappointing.

Forgetting the part where I’ve read up to around the halfway point of the book and there are glaring omissions from the story that’ll severely impact it if the film does well enough to get the next book, “The Secret Speech”, made. I promised I’d write this as a review of the film, not the adaptation. The film is a masterclass in poor direction, bad screenwriting and complete misuse of the acting talents of some of the best actors around today. Tom Hardy’s Leo Demidov is a great character. A tortured man who struggles with the situation he’s found himself in and is desperately trying to do the right thing while making things right for him and his wife. Raisa is similarly tortured, and played equally well by the always impressive Noomi Rapace. Her fight to stay strong doing nothing to help her as she struggles through life with a husband in such a powerful position. Thrown into turmoil with her exile, her role in Leo’s quest for redemption is much bigger than the writing gives her credit for.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, while absolutely superb aren’t given much of a chance to shine. A bad mix of painful screenwriting and something very close to stunt casting ruins what semblance of quality there may have been. Opting instead for wasting the talents of world class actors like Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassell with minimal screen time in poorly shot scenes that always appear to teeter on the edge of tense but fall flat and emotionless instead. Great actors like Jason Clarke and Charles Dance are barely given enough time to register with the audience, with the filmmakers instead choosing to gloss over what are clearly supposed to be important scenes of character development.

Now, say what you want about Daniel Espinosa as a director, and I said a lot of things when I came out of Child 44, I always thought he knew how to make a decent thriller. I know films like Safe House aren’t for everyone, but the pacing in it is superb. Hit after unrelenting hit comes at you from the first shot to the end of the film and it just doesn’t let up. The problem, is that Child 44 isn’t an action thriller. It’s a crime thriller. One that should be slow burning at that. Something more akin to Nordic film and TV than action films and Espinosa can’t quite seem to grasp that idea which, considering his background, is pretty ironic. The film has some glaring issues with its pace, never quite picking up to tell the story at a good speed but never dropping well enough to build tension. There are points where the pace slows, the acting is ramped up and the tension really should be building, but the scene just doesn’t live up to its promise. Falling flat on its face is the default position for the film’s direction and not even the skills that Hardy, Oldman and everyone else bring with them can rescue it.

Child 44 is set in one of the most interesting, but equally one of the most horrific times in living memory. It’s a bleak, hopeless time and perfectly suited for a thriller about the cold and calculating murder of 44 children. But the film never seems to pick up on the natural melancholy of a grey and gloomy Soviet Russia that’s handed to it. There should be freezing, unforgiving snow. There should be the air of cold, empty suffering and the film can’t even get that right. Call it a trope, a stereotype, whatever you want. Stalinist Russia was a sad, mournful place to live and die and Child 44 couldn’t even get to grips with the atmosphere handed to it. Choosing instead to bath unhappy scenes that should have an air death in sunshine. A dead child, in a country known to be cold and snowy, is a gift to a film maker. It doesn’t take a genius to know how that particular scene should look and if you can’t even get that right, what hope did the film really have?

I loved the performances in Child 44, everyone does a great job in selling me on their Russian accents and there’s enough Hardy to keep me happy until Mad Max comes out. The entire cast do a spectacular job but they all need…. No, they all deserve, a much better film than this. Child 44 has a spectacular premise, but it’s clearly too much for one film and far too much for this director. Better suited perhaps to one of those 8-10 episode HBO mini-series like Generation Kill or True Detective. Save your pennies and do what I’m going to do. I’m going to quench the sudden urge I have to watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy instead.

Child 44 is out in cinemas right now should you decide to ignore Brooker’s warning and try it for yourself.

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 7 – Iron Man 3

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Ushering in phase two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the third and final part in the Iron Man trilogy. With a change in director from John Favreau to the one-time highest paid screenwriter in the world, Shane Black, Iron Man 3 was the first film to deal with the fall-out from Avengers Assemble. Particularly on a personal level for the man who thwarted the invaders.

Whilst Robert Downey Jr’s contract talks were still up in the air, he returned for the fifth time in a feature film as the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist Tony Stark another spurned former colleague (Guy Pearce) and evil terrorist megalomaniac. Incredibly exciting for fans of the source material, the big-bad Hell bent on destruction this time was the Mandarin, Iron Man’s arch nemesis finally brought to the big screen, portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley.

The film itself was quite controversial for fans of the source material. A twist in the way the Mandarin was presented proved to be a step too far for some viewers; particularly for those listening to our original Iron Man 3 podcast back in 2013 who didn’t switch off before our “spoiler alert” section and hadn’t yet seen the movie. Such as Matt Lambourne – who between the trailers and clips we have in this episode will be featured in our retrospective review to finally let us know his opinion on the seventh Marvel Cinematic Universe film.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers



Avengers Minisodes: Episode 6 – Avengers Assemble

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

The longest episode in our Avengers Minisode series sees us clock in at a bumper 30 minutes! But it’s worth it for Avengers Assemble, the film that truly cemented Marvel Studios as the groundbreaking film company they are today. The third highest grossing film of all time, earning over $1bn in ticket sales alone, The Avengers was an unstoppable juggernaut of a film that earned almost as much critical praise as it did in box office revenue.

It was the final stamp on a project that began all the way back in 2005 and closed out Marvel’s Phase 1 in style. The heroes we’d seen develop in the five preceding movies finally got together on screen for the first time under the direction of Joss Whedon.  To see Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), finally together alongside Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD as they tried to thwart an alien invasion, led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the movie was the massive pay-off that the franchise so richly deserved.

Long time listeners to the podcast will recognise our retro review here has been taken from the second ever episode of the Failed Critics Podcast with James, Steve and Gerry, back when the film was first released in 2012. Joining Owen for a brand new retrospective look back on the film is our special guest – and former podcast regular – Carole Petts to assess whether or not the film still holds up considering all that’s come after it in Phase 2.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers



Avengers Minisodes: Episode 5 – Captain America: The First Avenger

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Already at the half way point in our series, our fifth episode of the Avengers Minisode podcasts sees the team turn their attentions to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. The penultimate entry to phase one of the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, it saw the emergence of the original super soldier as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) donned the stars and stripes uniform to take on secret Nazi science terrorists Hydra, led by the inherently evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

Like Thor before it, which saw a departure from the typical blockbuster fare of the Iron Man series and The Incredible Hulk, Captain America veered off in yet another direction towards the pulpy bombastic adventure genre you’d hope it would be from a director such as Joe Johnston. It also helped that the entire plot took place during the second world war, differentiating it even further from the standard superhero fare.

The First Avenger also saw the introduction of various important support characters to the MCU, such as: Toby Jones as Hydra’s Dr. Arnim Zola; Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s best friend, played by Sebastian Stan; and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, who would eventually go on to feature in her own Marvel TV series, Agent Carter. All of whom were great in their roles, but perhaps none were more surprising than Chris Evans himself who perfectly captured the good-hearted nature of the shield carrying patriot, Captain America.

A topic that our guest for this episode, Callum Petch, picks up on and tries to dissect exactly why that might be in our retrospective review. We’ve also got a retro review with James Diamond from one of our older archived podcasts, as well as trailers, clips and more.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers