All posts by Failed Critics

Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

To tie in with our latest podcast where Owen reviews Lionsgate’s new sci-fi adventure film, Origin Wars, we take a look at what else the genre has to throw at us this year.
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK.
Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

2016 in Review: A Soundtrack

10-cloverfield-lane-jukebox

It’s been a while since we did a review of the year’s soundtracks, so we drafted in frequent collaborator Tony Black – and head honcho at the TV and film music podcast Between The Notes – who put down his microphone in favour of writing down his thoughts on the top soundtracks of 2016. Plenty to consider before you vote in this year’s Failed Critics Awards.

Let’s be honest, it’s not been a great year at the movies has it, 2016? Not if you’re a major blockbuster at least. Oddly enough though, the same can’t quite be said for the scores to many of those films, dodgy or otherwise. David Ayer, Zack Snyder or even Scott Derrickson may have let you down, but Michael Giacchino, Clint Mansell or Cliff Martinez have been right on the money with their orchestral scores to some of this year’s most disappointing or divisive pictures.

Here are five scores to the biggest (and not necessarily best) movies that have troubled your multiplex that I consider to be composers close to the top of their respective games:


5 – THE WITCH (Mark Korven)

Just like you probably hadn’t heard of The Witch before early this year, chances are you won’t have heard of Canadian composer Mark Korven. He’s a new kid on the block. Much like how Robert Eggers wowed us with his debut feature, Korven backs him up with a score that drips remote, screeching, primeval terror and the coldness of the austere Puritan setting in which Eggers tells his chilling tale. It’s not Sunday afternoon easy listening, but it’s one of the best horror/chiller scores in years.

Standout track: Caleb’s Seduction


4 – STAR TREK BEYOND (Michael Giacchino)

The new master and heir apparent to John Williams; it’s rare Michael Giacchino has a bad year. After a stonking 2015 scoring a raft of average movies with stunning music, he delivers this year both with Doctor Strange and even more so Star Trek Beyond. It’s his third score for the JJ Abrams spearheaded revival of the classic TV score and it’s possibly his best yet, a heady mixture of iconic, reworked themes with powerful, thrilling brass and an elegant sense of galactic scope. Plus you’ll always have a good laugh at the wonderful puns that litter the names of his cues, as if you needed more of a reason to listen!

Standout track: Night on the Yorktown


3 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Bear McCreary)

You’ve heard Bear McCreary, even if you don’t know his name. Trust me. He scored the excellent Battlestar Galactica remake and it’s his music that forms the memorable title track to The Walking Dead. He’s been much more television based (and continues to be) but in scoring the underrated, Hitchcockian sequel to secret blockbuster Cloverfield, he truly advances to the big leagues with a score one parts mythic, and two parts a gorgeous mesh of dark thriller & Jerry Goldsmith-esque creeping mystique. Even if you don’t love 10 Cloverfield Lane (and you should), it would be a surprise if you don’t end up a little in love with how it sounds by the end.

Standout track: Michelle


2 – THE NEON DEMON (Cliff Martinez)

Following previous partnerships with Nicolas Winding Refn on films such as Drive or Only God Forgives, Cliff Martinez perhaps reaches amongst the peak of his accomplishments with his remarkable and unique work on The Neon Demon. Now, not everyone took to Winding Refn’s garish horror about the fashion industry, but Martinez’s music drips with substance. It often sounds like diamonds falling onto a cold floor, infused with a sense of warped, pulsing disco, underlain with painful violins capturing the tragedy of Elle Fanning’s main character. It’s a stunning piece of work, and remarkable for the fact the standout piece, ‘The Demon Dance’, is a contributing from Julian Winding, the directors brother. If it’s not being played in clubs forevermore, it’ll be a travesty.

Standout track: The Demon Dance


1 – HIGH-RISE (Clint Mansell)

There’s a strong argument that Clint Mansell is the greatest composer on this list discussed today and, after listening to his score for High-Rise, it’s hard to provide a counterpoint. Ben Wheatley’s absurdist, neo-capitalist, period masterpiece and searing critique on Thatcherism may both be the greatest film of 2016 but also have a score to match. Mansell belies his roots as a Midlander growing up in the gaudy, concrete monstrosities of the 60’s & 70’s to deliver an operatic and creeping piece which matches Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s commentary. It’s full of brash violins, strong towering themes and an underpinning of controlled mayhem which Mansell explodes outward for effect at just the right moments. Of all these pieces, it’s the score that can be most listened to and enjoyed in isolation. Even in Mansell’s glittering career it’s a standout, possibly career best piece of work.

Standout track: The World Beyond the High Rise


In terms of honourable mentions, a shout out again to Giacchino for Doctor Strange, to Henry Jackman for The Birth of a Nation, the great John Williams for The BFG, Johann Johannson for Arrival, John Ottman for X-Men Apocalypse, Abel Korzeniowski for Nocturnal Animals and John Powell/David Buckley’s collaboration on Jason Bourne. There are more I’ve missed, undoubtedly, from even the honourable mentions, let alone the best of list.

So take a moment to remember than even in a hellish political year, or a largely average one for movies on the screen, the composers behind the music are still delivering work you’ll be listening to for years to come. 2016 does have one saving grace, after all…

The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: The Visit

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website:  http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

Next in our series of reviews from this year’s event, Tony Black takes a look at Michael Madsen’s conceptual documentary, The Visit.


by Tony Black (@BlackHoleOnline)

A legend appears at the outset of The Visit: An Alien Encounter which informs us everyone who takes part in this ‘simulation’ are real professionals, scientists and thinkers. The word simulation marks Michael Madsen’s (not that one) piece out as slightly to the left of the documentary, despite being filmed as such. Rather, it’s a thought piece, a consideration, a classic ‘what if?’ presented not as fiction but almost-fact. What if, in this case, we were visited by an extra-terrestrial life form? Fiction has of course covered this ground in cinematic terms a wealth of times, perhaps most memorably in 50’s B-movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, but Madsen’s spin on the idea presents the film less as entertainment, more a conversation we happen to be part of, or a series of conversations. Our POV is that of the unseen, unheard alien being who the aforementioned real life professionals respond to, explaining the procedures immediately following the aliens’ arrival and later delving into the philosophical, practical and psychological repercussions of his arrival. We are welcomed to planet Earth. We become the very thing we are questioning.

This does serve, at points, as if these world famous (in their field) people are communicating into a void, almost talking back to themselves, which is a consequence of the approach and in real terms a budgetary consideration from Madsen; this is stripped down Scandinavian conceptual filmmaking, without the license to show visual effects of aliens, the inside of spacecrafts or too many cosmic landscapes. It’s also definitely a creative choice on his part; he seeks in part to evoke the almost religious wonder of the unknown we witnessed in Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (though using the Blue Danube Waltz is perhaps a little on the nose), as scientist Chris Welch explores the spacecraft interior and finds unusual landscapes. Madsen is also, certainly, playing with our perception of reality – not just considering what lies within the craft, but scenes involving one contributor see him deliberately trick the frame, inducing parallels while flipping props to enable a sense of disorientation; indeed the scientists themselves posit the philosophical idea that if the alien leaves without sharing any information or shining a light on its own existence, was its presence theoretical? Madsen explores all of these concepts within the thin running time, though frankly he has the breathing room.

Even at just shy of eighty minutes, The Visit doesn’t necessarily feel longer but Madsen struggles at points to fill out the narrative he does present. A documentary could call upon facts and research, but a fascinating look at the makings of the Voyager space probe aside, his picture is solidly in the realms of the conceptual. It may dress itself up as a simulation but in many respects it is a drama, a play of sorts only featuring naturalistic performances functioning as reactive conversation between people well respected in their field. Madsen at times can’t quite balance whether he wants to explore an element of narrative or rest on the mere pondering of the ‘big questions’ – why are we here? What is a human being? Almost all of the big theological & philosophical ideas are in play here, as are the practicalities. This too is where Madsen over eggs the pudding. He’s a slave to the slow motion tracking shot – at first it evokes a slightly otherworldly mood, a cold and calculated exploration of the unnatural, but it quickly becomes a crutch he relies on to deploy his imagery of unusual constructions, people going about their day to day, and the mobilising balance of a military deployed as a reaction to the alien’s visit. He seems afraid to let his camera breathe as naturally as the scientists on screen, ironically enough serving to further detach himself from the documentarian approach he primarily wants to ape. It’s a shame because his imagery, intersected with the static interactions with the people on screen, is often interesting.

If nothing that will revolutionise either the science fiction or documentary genres The Visit dips a toe in either way, Michael Madsen’s film is an intriguing look with an intriguing hook at a concept which has fascinated writers and filmmakers for the last half century – what would happen if aliens visited us? It’s quite rare to find a film which doesn’t approach the subject matter in bombastic or fantastic terms, moreover one that uses real life thinkers & scientists to consider the extreme possibilities & consequences that we’re not alone in the universe; amusingly at one point two of those on screen describe ‘fiction’, and report that more often than not such attempts to portray first contact end without a happy conclusion. If you’re looking for a film with such conclusions at all, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a flawed but fascinating, rational and illuminating exploration of the idea, this may be worth exploring yourself.

The Visit will be screened as a part of the festival on Monday 7th September at 18:45 at The Light, and Thursday 10th at 15:30 in the Arts Picturehouse. To find out more information and to book your tickets, visit the Cambridge Film Festival website.

Kids

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 23.38.11A young couple, stripped down to their undies and suspiciously underage in appearance, engage in some overly gaping lip locking via the medium of extreme close-up. Then, they fuck. During said fucking, our man comments, by way of narration, that his lady friend is a virgin – he likes virgins. A little-known musical project named Deluxx Folk Implosion’s rusty-raw punk fusion proceeds to spin overhead as the opening credits finally roll. Larry Clark’s Kids is four minutes old, and already your eyes are shifting a little uncomfortably as you debate switching it off and pretending the last few moments didn’t happen, content that you’ll never see or hear from Mr. Clark again. But you don’t. You watch it. Don’t worry; we’ve all been there.

Larry Clark’s divisive art house flick has been labelled many things since its initial 1995 release, ranging from “a wake-up call to the world”, to outright “child pornography”. It maintains an almost 50/50 split amongst critics, with many continuing to deplore its frank, graphically disturbing material and heavily sexual nature. Whilst undeniably brutal however, it’s very watchable, a testament to the stylistic and technical achievements of Clark and his team, on what was his debut picture. Whilst his direction has never come even close to scaling such engrossing, high quality heights again (2001’s Bully is an outside shout – everything else should be avoided at all costs), his hectic, down to earth day-in-the-life depiction of New York’s mid-90s youth is a tragic tale well worth revisiting during this, the month of its 20th anniversary.

I myself maintain a weirder-than-average relationship with the film, due primarily to the unconventional manner in which I first viewed it. Though my geeky mid-teen lust for classic cinema meant my 15-year-old-self was no stranger to 18-rated movies, usually the process of watching one was dictated strictly on my terms. After all, when you need to borrow Pulp Fiction from your mate’s brother and sneak a few hours with your sister’s VHS player in order to witness Jules and Vincent shooting the shit without your parents knowing (they probably knew, I think they just wanted me to work for it), you know when to take risks and when to be patient. In short, rather than being sought of my own free will (I’d never even heard of it at the time), Kids was shown to my entire class and I by our almost certainly loopy GCSE Media Studies teacher – for no real reason, I might add. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that particular lesson was an experience.

While, of course, it is not advisable to show Kids to, er, kids, seeing it through a child’s eyes, unlike most critics, provided me with a sense of relatable perspective. After all, the majority of the actors cast were around my age, meaning the peak of life’s first stage of discovery portrayed on screen, re: sex and drugs, was certainly part-tangible, but also still very much part-wonder in real life. The film’s example of youth culture is a rather extreme cluster fuck of literally everything a young person could get up to in one day, but many individual aspects here and there will relate to different people in different ways, more so if watched when you yourself are at that exact stage in your, so far, rather clueless life.

Telly, Jasper, Jennie and co. smoke, they swear, they drink, they fuck, they steal, they fight, and they party. They’re confused, ill informed, and casually aggressive when it comes to issues such as sexuality, sexual health, contraception, rape, and race. Kids doesn’t want or try to make real life teens do anything extraordinary. Rather, it sums up and reaffirms what’s painfully normal, bringing all the little pieces that usually fly under the radar together in an orgy-like, warning-laden crescendo of, in theory, how one’s young life could be effectively destroyed if you don’t keep things in check. Basically, it’s a film that should be viewed by everyone, and no one through ages 15-18.

The themes may be darker than dark, but what stops it from being purely an example of grimy indie exploitation is the part played by practically everyone involved in the production. The kids in front of the camera were virtually all newcomers – real life local skaters whom Clark encountered in Central Park and elsewhere around New York. It’s pretty much a perfect cast, with Leo Fitzpatrick and the late Justin Pierce owning their cocksure roles with easy bravado, and future Hollywood successes Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson showing how and why they went on to big things in spite of their amateur status at the time. Harmony Korine’s streetwise screenplay is smart as hell, giving the impression of constant ad lib sessions when in reality the entire thing – bar one or two scenes – was scripted. The soundtrack is hazy, in your face, hazy, repeat; creating and maintaining tone throughout.

Holding everything together of course, is Larry Clark. Considering he’s a certified screw ball, as his later films prove (again, DO NOT watch anything post-Bully), and had no prior filmmaking experience – certainly in terms of a feature film – he really pulled it out of the bag on this one. Using an eavesdropping, handheld documentary-esque style of shooting, Clark utilises angles and scope alike to create a world that’s up close and far away all at the same time. Bright, intriguing; claustrophobic, frightening – he rarely lets your eyes rest, leaving indie-type iconic imagery burning for a while after, from the aforementioned opening scene, to Jennie’s revelation, to four very young lads crammed on a sofa, sharing a spliff and chatting shit, to Telly and Casper’s respective final conquests.

Clark’s cinematic technique and subject matter go hand in hand, but the sex, drugs, violence, and related range of raw emotions on show aren’t there for the sake of it. Instead, Clark ties the numerous everyday aspects of being young together in a compact (and, granted, over the top) timeline, summing up the dreams and nightmares of the average city-dwelling western youth (and their parents); images that are still relevant now, but that were one hundred perfect in need of attention in 1995. It’s perfectly shocking, lightning in a bottle stuff from Clark, something that no one will likely repeat anytime soon. Him most of all.

Pusher (S3 Ep17)

In a brand new entry to our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, Tony Black of Black Hole Cinema fame inducts one of the most iconic TV villains of all time, Pusher, from one of the most iconic TV shows of all time, The X-Files.

by Tony Black (@BlackHoleWriter)

i want to believe“You mean you killed this man for nothing, you sick bastard?”

“Oh haven’t you figured it out yet, Mulder? They all kill themselves.”

One of the chief inspirations for FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, erstwhile and dogged investigator of The X-Files, was the master of detection, Sherlock Holmes. Chris Carter himself has cited Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary literary figure as a touchstone for Mulder, with his remarkable leaps of logic to explain the unexplained, not to mention his eccentricities and detachment from traditional life & relationships – plus he has a ready made Dr. Watson in fellow Special Agent Dana Scully, yanked out of her normal existence, swiftly enraptured by Mulder’s world. Up until ‘Pusher’, the seventeenth episode of The X-Files‘ third season–as the show was really hitting the mid-90’s zeitgeist–Mulder had never found his Professor Moriarty, his nemesis. He arrived ready made in Robert Patrick Modell, the eponymous ‘pusher’, and the result saw Vince Gilligan deliver the finest X-File in the show’s (to date) nine season run.

The genius of ‘Pusher’ is that it’s one of those concepts, even for an X-File, that is breathtakingly simple yet beautiful in construction; a man capable of talking another human being into doing whatever he desires, a form of mind control inducement thanks to the cadence of the person’s voice. Giving that power to a twisted, bitter sociopath who wants nothing more than a worthy adversary is a stroke of brilliance, and that’s the central key to ‘Pusher’ being such a perfectly constructed hour of television. The X-Files by its very nature, much like Doctor Who, had the freedom to go almost anywhere and tell a myriad of stories, such is the vast canvas of the paranormal & unknown in our world; when it wasn’t about global alien conspiracies, man eating monsters or natural pathogens or predators, often the more intriguing character-based concepts would come into play – the reality bending seduction of ‘Milagro’, the unnerving fetishism of ‘Irresistable’ or cold hearted pain of ‘Paper Hearts’. With ‘Pusher’ it was a battle of wills, a chess match between two adversaries, as Mulder desperately begins to realise that Modell simply wants to watch the world around him burn, look into the face of the man good enough to beat him, and smile. Indeed though he wants to be Moriarty, in truth he’s more like the Joker. Scully describes him at one point as “a little man who wants everyone to believe he’s big” and that’s the tragic, sometimes jet black comic ideal driving ‘Pusher’ as an episode.

“Modell psyched the guy out, he put the whammy on him!”

“Please explain to me the scientific nature of ‘the whammy’.”

Enormous credit must go to guest star Robert Wisden as Modell, because it’s his performance that truly sells Gilligan’s marvelous writing; he’s sly, calculating, quippy and strangely charming, a hugely tricky balance to pull off, but Wisden is able to flip between these styles at will. At one moment Modell may be calmly talking a court judge out of sentencing him, almost the friendly neighbour next door, then the next he’s inducing a cop to immolate himself, taunting Mulder jokily over the phone or, in arguably the second most memorable scene of the episode, talking bullish local detective Frank Burst into having a heart attack over the phone. It’s truly chilling and the moment of complete shock and horror on the faces of Mulder, Scully and the team of detectives around Frank at that point still sends a chill down the spine – topped off when Modell then calmly gives them the pay phone number Frank was keeping him on the line to trace. Wisden manages to craft the finest ‘human’ monster the show ever created – especially given that tinge of tragedy to the man; he’d spent his life being average, amounting to little, and only upon discovering his ‘power’ was he able to make any kind of mark, styling himself after the Japanese Ronin, a ‘warrior without a master’. Gilligan manages to tap into this psychology while always keeping Modell alien enough to be frequently terrifying.

In many of the stand alone episodes of The X-Files, you got the feeling it was just another case for either Mulder & Scully, sometimes having a deeper impact on the guest stars than they themselves. For Mulder in particular, ‘Pusher’ you know stays with him. That’s borne out indeed two seasons later in sequel episode ‘Kitsunegari’ which while vastly inferior, actually serving to hugely neuter Modell’s power, does show how much Mulder felt strongly Modell should die for his crimes in ‘Pusher’. Often he can saunter through a case facing a few scrapes but coming out the other end proven right and unscathed bar some cuts & bruises, but both times he encounters Modell he’s marked; you can feel the moments in ‘Pusher’ where Mulder is being pushed, being drained, such as his vociferous prosecution and frustration at the judge after he catches Modell, and later his aforementioned fury at Frank Burst’s chilling murder (and his desperate attempts to save him when he realises what Modell is doing). It all culminates in, appropriately, the show’s final act, an absolute master stroke in narrative tension from Gilligan and particularly director Rob Bowman, which sees a ‘pushed’ Mulder led by the dying Modell into a final battle of ‘Russian roulette’ in an evacuated hospital, with an emotional & shaken Scully acting as arbiter at the table. David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson give it their all, you can feel the power, tension and emotion at that table as Modell strives to win his final victory.

“It was like you said. He was always such a little man. This was finally something that made him feel big.”

“I say we don’t let him take up another minute of our time.”

The reason that ‘Pusher’ might be the greatest X-File ever made isn’t just because of Vince Gilligan’s supreme script, or Rob Bowman’s expert direction, or indeed the magnificent guest performance of Robert Wisden, but rather because for a show built around the unknown, about the monsters within and without, Robert Patrick Modell was never truly a monster at all. He committed horrific crimes. He was deeply twisted and hateful. But he was also a sad, lonely, desperate figure who’s only way of making a stamp on the world was by controlling the whims of others and, perversely, trying to grab the attention of the man he no doubt wished he could have been. That wonderful sense of twisted humanity is what drama, what great storytelling, is all about.

As for this reviewer, as Modell’s victims might say, he had to go.

You can listen to Tony’s previous appearances on the Failed Critics Podcast here or read the rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles on our website.

Kung Fury

Of course we watched Kung Fury.  We had to. It’s our job. But, as writer Nicholas Lay finds out, this Kickstarter backed 30 minute long 80’s parody is also pretty awesome!

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 23.33.59Ah the 1980s action movie parody/homage, always a more than welcome distraction from the daily grind of non-80s action movie-related real life. Having seen and heard a plethora of excited keyboard mashing regarding a certain Swedish short, Kung Fury (neat), the latest incarnation of the genre to sweep our fair world wide web, I owed it to my Sunday afternoon to chill the fuck out and give it a watch. It was a good decision. Dropping free-to-stream a few days ago, seemingly out of nowhere, writer/director David Sandberg’s action/cop/martial arts b-movie piss-take is exactly what you want from thirty minutes of mindless entertainment. I wouldn’t say I completely lost my shit over it – like most people online seem to have done – as it’s all been done before, with various aspects even appearing as recently as the video game spin-off Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and soon to crop up again in the upcoming, no doubt step-too-far Iron Sky sequel. Having said that, it’s impossible not to appreciate the hell out of Sandberg’s larger-than-life creation.

For starters, the film is incredibly well made, with seemingly every penny of the $630k Kickstarter cash pledged being plunged into the production, and then some, to create a technical masterpiece of indie filmmaking. Unfazed by the scale of his vision versus the budget available, Sandberg utilises green screen and props with perfect balance, resulting in a look that’s part epic, part comical, and altogether full-on 80s. The opening flippin’-skateboard shot sets the tone for the countless outlandish action sequences that follow, peppered with old school Verhoeven-style head explosions, never-ending firearm clips, and highlighted throughout by increasingly insane superpowers, ridiculous weaponry, and mass kung-fu duels. Shot smartly and edited seamlessly, particularly the raw footage against the vast, varying green screen projected backdrops, and complete with a smile-inducing scratchy VHS-style overlay at times, such a well coordinated mish-mash – backed by a classic, synth-heavy score of the era – demonstrates that Sandberg, technically, is riding the crest of a wave that most bedroom-ridden keyboard warrior fanboy wannabes can only dream of.

Giving the action its relevancy by way of helping to emphasise its wholly ridiculous nature is a quality blend of writing, characters, and, here and there, performances. The plot is total and utter nonsense, as one would expect from this sort of crazy spoof-laden capering, with the usual 80s-influenced coming together of Nazis, dinosaurs, time travel, gods, guns, and gore more than present and correct. Anyone can mix this sort of stuff up in a script and hope it comes out funny, but numerous projects, from low budget YouTube clips to motion pictures are proof, more often than not, that this is not always the case. Sandberg certainly has a few moments of ‘meh’ present within his writing (the Viking-era scenes especially are fairly humdrum), but for the most part the premise, individual scenarios, and particularly the dialogue are nothing short of fucking hilarious – and I mean that in a good way.

So many little moments inspire genuine mirth, from the evil arcade-transformer-bot lasering with middle fingers raised and fumbling with a parking meter in order to salvage more quarters, to an overly camp Hitler screaming ‘Fuck you!” and opening fire at the police through a back-in-the-day brick mobile – the latter of which had me in the biggest fit of practically crying movie-related laughter since god knows when. Completing the 80s checklist is one of my favourite sequences, Kung Fury’s anime/superhero drawn encounter with a lisp-wielding, justice obstructing cobra, complete with subtle butt clenching/flexing on the part of our hero and a great bit of voice work by Frank Sanderson.

When it comes to the characters and their depictions, Sandberg himself – who somehow manages also to star in the titular role – leads the way with a downright hysterical deadpan performance, delivering each of his wonderfully clichéd one-liners and sketchy exposition with all the stereotypical macho bullshit of every 80s action star that ever lived. The fact that a fair old bunch of the other actors involved aren’t all that great doesn’t matter too much, as the consistently amusing nature of the characters themselves (including a half-man, half-triceratops with a British accent called, wait for it, Triceracop – for fuck’s sake) more than makes up for it. And that goes for the non-human characters/beings too, of whom, from the get go, you don’t even think about questioning in terms of either existence or motive.

Cutting so deep into fanboy action culture that it practically bleeds 1980s throwbacks, Kung Fury is a textbook example of the sort of entertainment the internet was made for. Slick, funny, and enjoyable from beginning to end with only a few minor hiccups, this shameless thirty-minute flick is an ideal way of killing that end-of-the-day office countdown on a dull midweek afternoon. Or you could just, you know, get really high and whack it on. Either way, Sandberg’s loving enthusiasm for his pet project shines through, and for that he is to be commended. In the end the whole thing turned out far better than expected thanks to his efforts to make damn sure it was all worth it, even getting period hero The Hoff onboard to complete the circle of 80s life.

So watch and appreciate it while it’s fresh as, no matter how funny it is for half an hour, this sort of thing can get real old, real fast. By that I mean, in my opinion, the production benefitted massively from the fact that Sandberg and his team didn’t manage to raise enough money to make a full-length feature film. Over ninety plus minutes the novelty tends to wear off around the thirty-minute mark (see Iron Sky for reference), meaning Kung Fury got it spot on. As a follow up of some kind already seems inevitable, however, I’ll make the case right now, if it has to be made, for a sequel/prequel/whatever to be shot in the same short format. I’m happy to be proved wrong of course, but with the deserved success the film is currently courting online, the more-than-likely difficult to sustain original concept of a feature length version could realistically be green lit, to which I say…

…I got your permit right here!

Kung Fury is available to watch for free over on YouTube:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5P_LAqiVg]

Innocence (S2 Ep14)

In another new article for our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, first time writer for the site Matthew Latham looks back at one of the most pivotal moments in Joss Whedon’s hugely popular show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

by Matthew Latham (@theBottleEp)

buffy angel“Growing up is hard”. It’s the clichéd phrase that’s thrown around pretty much everywhere you look. There’s been a lot of TV shows that try to highlight this, but perhaps some get a little carried away in their own spectacle. They can show an over-exaggerated view of teenage life that doesn’t fully exist and creates high standards to live up to. Skins, for example, its first series is brilliant drama series but isn’t an exact representation of teenage life; it’s a character study for Nicholas Hoult’s character. Whilst other teenage shows of the last ten years appear to go for kitsch soapy drama (Gossip Girl and 90210) in niche areas of society.

In every TV generation, a show is born. It alone will be able to take a more mature look at growing up with a more level headed respect for its audience. With relatable characters that are more like the average viewer. In this modern era, the closest we have is probably Awkward (if you finish watching it at the end of the third season), but even that descends into sometimes dodgy soap territory alongside some genuinely smart story-telling techniques. Before then you had Friday Night Lights that explored growing up in the context of a small town environment. There’s also Freaks and Geeks, which was aimed towards adults who were teenagers in the 1980s.

Okay, okay, so shows involving a blogger and football are a tad more realistic than a girl who fights mythological creatures. It’s not exactly My So-Called Life (the quintessential show about growing up) is it? What Buffy had was a clear goal: to show the struggles of growing up and the pressures that go with it; juggling school work, social lives, family, possible jobs alongside the fear of entering the adult world and preparing for it. Buffy throws in a bunch of metaphors involving mythological creatures that still was more relatable than those rich kids with that famous zip code. Felt ignored? There’s an episode about a girl who ended up turning invisible because of it. Pushy mum that wants you to do something that she did as a teenager? There’s an ep for that. It’s more apparent in the first season and the first half of the second, and the episodes aren’t superbly fantastic (and not to mention dated). The show couldn’t keep doing this forever, so it had to get to a point when it risks going for the bigger issues and extended arcs.

Innocence concludes a two-part story that started with the previous episode, Surprise. It’s when Buffy, the show and the character, begin the process of growing up. It has had arc plots before, but this sees a massive turning point in the season arc involving Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Geller) relationship with the vampire Angel (David Boreanaz). Since the pilot the attraction between them has grown from when Angel mysteriously popped up to give Buffy cryptic advice, and then vanish. Buffy (inevitably) ended up being drawn to him and vice versa before he revealed that he was vampire. Only one with a soul. It transpires Angel used to be an evil git in the past, with this life finally catching up with him after killing a young gypsy woman. Scorned, the woman’s family cursed him with a soul so he would be haunted in an eternal life of guilt.

It turns out that these gypsies had a pretty questionable loophole in that if Angel had a moment of true happiness, then he’d lose the soul. This episode sees the result of Angel losing his soul via sleeping with Buffy at the climax (ha!) of the previous episode. Thus he reverts back to Angelus. Immediately Buffy, her friends and the audience are taken out of their comfort zone. Whatever trace of Angel there was, and what we’ve seen in the past has gone. We meet the real “Big Bad” of the season as Buffy has to enter a war against a man who used to be the man she loved.

“But where is the relatable metaphor?” I (don’t) hear you cry. Innocence kicks off an extended arc which deals with the boyfriend that you sleep with and doesn’t call or seem interested in. Angel turns into the kind of guy who leaves after “doing the deed”, breaking Buffy’s heart in the process. Geller has to do a lot here, and she pulls it off effortlessly. The first scene between Buffy and Angelus (the name used to differentiate between him and Angel) sees him being incredibly crude; commenting on Buffy’s sexual prowess and cutting her down emotionally. It’s a heart-breaking scene and it helps you get on Buffy’s side immediately. The mystical events are a backdrop to a conversation that could happen in real life or any other “straight” (with no-fantastical element) dramas, as Buffy has to come to terms with the guy she thought she knew has gone. In his place is…well, a jerk.

And what a jerk Angelus becomes. Boreanaz is a delight, revelling in the fun as this darker incarnation of Angel. The previous episode introduced the show’s usual “Demon of the Week” villain in the form of The Judge, a being that “burn humanity” out of people. It’s very much a plot device that’s clearly set-up for the scene where The Judge tries to burn a recently de-souled Angelus but doesn’t. It’s another scene that whilst convenient, the writing is indicating that the show is different now. Characters are different. Angel is gone and we’re using every viable method we can to show this.

As the drama around Buffy and Angel’s relationship crosses its own Rubicon, other characters find significant changes within their own arcs. Willow (Alyson Hanningan) discovers that Xander (Nicholas Brendan) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) have…well, whatever the hell they’ve been doing. Alyson Hannigan gets one of her many great moments in the show here, laying into Xander and delivering the breaking: “it means you’d rather be with someone you hate, than be with me.” But it’s good in the long term, because in Willow’s quest to “even the score” she offers a make-out session with new love interest Oz (Seth Green) in a van whilst the Scooby Gang (the name given to Buffy’s friends) are sneaking into an army base. In perhaps the best piece of writing where you’ll find yourself loving a character, Oz replies with a “no”, spotting the reasons behind it in one of his better moments in the show. Even Giles (Anthony Steward Head) gets his own place to shine, acting as the father figure Buffy deserves and showing his loyalty to her in despite of the revelation that his girlfriend Jenny (Robia La Morte) was part of the Gypsy tribe that cursed Angel (Though I’ve always felt that they may have been a little too harsh towards Jenny).

The writing is incredibly strong in this episode and you can pin that down to Joss Whedon, the guy behind those recently successful Avengers movies you may have heard of. I often recall a quote he once said; “The two things that matter the most to me: emotional resonance and rocket launchers. Party of Five, a brilliant show, and often made me cry uncontrollably, suffered ultimately from a lack of rocket launchers.” This sums up his attitude to the show: the emotional relatability is there to see, but to have that impact you need to make sure you have something exciting alongside it. This works from the opposite angle as well, as action sequences need a layer of emotional resonance for the audience to be attached to them.

In terms of Innocence, this is represented by an actual rocket launcher. It’s as if Whedon wanted to be subtle by not being subtle at all. It’s what her friends break into an army base to get; as “any weapon forged” can’t kill The Judge – so they get one that was made in a factory instead. It’s a very cool visual, one that will linger in the title sequence for seasons to come. The climax of the episode sees a fight between Angelus and Buffy in which she can’t bring herself to kill him, so she kicks him in the nether regions. It’s a great thematic end to the episode as the power that Angelus took via that conversation in his apartment is transferred back to Buffy. It isn’t much, but it’s enough. “Give me time,” she tells him.

Points of no return have been crossed. With Buffy’s loss of innocence, the show follows suit and the rest of the season spirals into a darker turn. Buffy’s mother asks her what she did for her birthday, and she replies with one word: “older”. Buffy had to grow up, and so did the show. Sure, the show would still dabble in the stand-alone metaphorical tales (like the late season episode Go Fish), but there was now more layers of characterisation, characters would react to situations differently. The show’s mission statement was in full effect: this is what Buffy the Vampire Slayer is capable of.

It isn’t an episode to watch in isolation; nor is one to introduce people in the show. But it’s a pay-off for those that stuck with it, accepted what the first season is and started to fall for the characters. The ramifications of this episode end up affecting the entire run of the rest of the show, and forms the backbone of the later Angel spin-off. If that doesn’t show the episode’s case for one of the best forty-five minutes of TV ever, then I don’t know what will.

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

The Human Centipede 3

“100% politically incorrect”, a tagline that could not only be used to describe Tom Six’s The Human Centipede 3, but quite possibly our very own Paul Field, who sets about reviewing this monstrosity of a film.

by Paul Field (@pafster)

human centipede 3 2“Fake Outrage is Britain’s Oxygen”, says Sun TV Critic Ally Ross; and you know what, he’s right. Everybody is constantly offended by everything, and now that party has well and truly relocated itself to film land. Like those unwanted dullards who stay in the kitchen at house parties, bring nothing to the party themselves, but drink all the wine. Swivel-eyed femo nazi loons writing open letters to Joss Whedon lambasting him for the sexist Avengers Age of Ultron, basement dwelling porn addicts who are bashing their steroidal shrivelled cocks into the ground over Mad Max being feminist propaganda, the Cannes high heels door policy mob are clearly all women hating rapists…and so it goes on.

Then who rings the doorbell…? Tom Six.

Now you’ve actually got something to complain about. Now you’ve got The Human Centipede 3. A truly, horrible, nasty piece of work. Its so utterly, utterly wrong all of you complainers, you can now fill your boots. This is the gift you’ve been waiting for. Brutal, humiliating treatment of women, glorified and unnecessary violence, non-stop racist language & revelling in the absolute worst of humanity has to offer.

Me, I thought it was pretty funny.

The double meta whammy of the two previous films being works of fiction to be applied to a real world environment. Dieter Laser (The Human Centipede) is joined by Laurence R Harvey (Human Centipede 2) as the Governor and administrator of a US prison. Laser, who turns in a non-stop, over the top, bat-shit crazy performance that is so awful, it has to be seen to be believed, without subtitles, this film is barely audible, so horrendous is his diction. Harvey (who is from Wigan) as his long suffering side-kick delivers possibly the worst US accent ever committed to film. Bree Olson (loads of porn movies) turns up as the secretary, there only to be humiliated and er… TV’s Eric Roberts plays the state Governor.

We’re then treated to all sorts of depraved set pieces, from jars of clits, to fantastical rape deaths, acts of extreme violence and non-stop brutality, swearing and of course Laser screaming his lines like a demented baboon…. all building to the final Centipede…and another bonus critter they make….

It’s a deliberately terrible film, the biggest trolling experiment ever done, and I can’t wait for the swivel-eyed loons to bite. And for that reason alone, I love this film. I can’t applaud Tom Six enough for this, he revels in the abuse that’s thrown his way – and I can’t wait for it all to kick off.

The Human Centipede 3 is available through VOD now, and UK cinemas from July 10th.

We Are Many

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

A3044022-0064-4D14-AEEB-73667FD7D2A9To my politically naïve fourteen-year-old-self, the invasion of Iraq by the United States and her allies, including the United Kingdom, essentially passed in a flash of news bulletins, uniformed discussion, and a general lack of understanding. 20 March 2003 was just another day in my rowdy teenage life, as was the month prior, during which, on 15 February, the largest coordinated global concentration of human assembly in all history took place. Spearheaded and centralised by crowds topping 1.5 million on the streets of London, people the world over joined forces en masse in a peaceful, controlled outcry of protest against the possibility of war with Iraq.

The motivations, construction, execution, and legacy of these gatherings are the primary focus of British-based producer/director Amir Amirani’s new documentary, We Are Many. A study of the ever-developing power of protest, the film centres on the original catalyst for such action in modern times, as well as its enduring results up to and including the 2011 Arab Spring and the recently rejected proposal of western military intervention in Syria.

What could certainly be called a ‘definitive’ discussion on the topic of protest during the opening decades of the 21st century, We Are Many welcomingly encapsulates and conveys a moment in time that deserves to be remembered and passed down through this generation and the next. The impressive scale of verbal and visual coverage conveyed is unprecedented for a major film or documentary dealing with the Iraq War. Working firstly through the build up to the 15 February protests, Amirani then proceeds to delve down into the fascinating, somewhat disturbing manner in which the overwhelming public reaction was somehow lost amongst the mixed political response, resulting in any and all protest slowly melting into the inevitable countdown to war.

Never overbearing and consistently interesting, the film is well edited, paced, and scored. Amirani relays the history beautifully, whittling down his countless hours of interview footage and extremely thorough research to produce a concise, well-reasoned, sometimes genuinely emotional work. An array of diverse techniques is employed to spread out and reel in varying levels of audience engagement, all of which actually come together with remarkable consistency. There’s the constant, subtle development of tension via the ticking calendar, a range of interesting side note anecdotes used to break up the main arc (Antarctica/Mandela/NO WAR), and a simple, brutal juxtaposition between the stark reality of war and the joking, dismissive reception given to it at times by the powers that be. Sometimes the smart, contextual use of a basic raw recording or clip is all that is needed, as is the case with the inclusion of the late British MP Robin Cook’s protest-based resignation speech to the House of Commons. A powerful, emotion-rousing piece of anti-war rhetoric that deconstructs the government’s argument to the point of ironic absurdity, it’s the sort of dormant political moment within mainstream culture that is more than worthy of widely distributed preservation.

It’s formidable stuff from Amirani, who – without getting drawn into celebrity name checking – assembles a bordering-on-epic group of talking heads to help paint vividly the increasingly intense nature of proceedings. There’s researchers, journalists, politicians, musicians, event/committee/association organisers, commentators, veterans etc. etc., with plenty of unique, fascinating insight prevalent throughout, and genuine passion evident in those relaying how events unfolded from the ground up. Unlike some documentaries released twenty, thirty, forty years after the event, We Are Many benefits heavily from being so fresh in the minds of those involved. Rather that simply pressing play on everything at his disposal, Amirani uses this interviewee energy, intercut with his superb archive footage, to weave an immersive, but always-startling true tale.

A great documentary should never assume that its audience is in the know regarding the subject of discussion. On top of this approach there should generally be a healthy level of provocation toward research/analysis-based thoughts and reactions on the part of the audience, outside of what they’re specifically being told. We Are Many does this brilliantly by way of its historical and social commentary, and overall coverage. As someone from my generation – too young to really understand or participate in Iraq-related events at the time – I was not only left with a strong sense of pride in the sheer willingness of my fellow man to project views I now consider myself firmly aligned with, but also found myself in complete awe of how focused and peaceful the whole thing was. Now an adult contemporary of an age in which protests throughout the west are frequently inundated with clashes between rival gangs and political groups, anonymous rioters, kettling and other forms of police aggressiveness, it’s both tragic and inspiring to see how easy it seemed to be once upon a time.

Not exactly life changing, but certainly very necessary at a point in time when protest exists at the forefront of global opinion, and numerous questions concerning the true motivations for the Iraq War remain unanswered, We Are Many is a moving, thoroughly engaging journey through one of the chief high-profile social and political chapters of the early 21st century. With political interest and participation steadily rising amongst young people, a well-made, relatable documentary feature such as this is definitely a useful, welcome shot in the arm. In no way pretentious or deeply complex, but, due to the subject matter, not a piece to be taken lightly either; time set aside to allow full immersion, however you choose to view it, is highly recommended. Timeless in nature, I have no doubt it’ll go on to have a productive future as a pertinent reminder to future generations of the interchangeable, very real themes of war, peace, power, politics, and, ultimately, freedom of speech in the form of protest.

We Are Many will have a live satellite link-up Premiere with very special guests on 21 May, beamed to cinemas around the UK, followed by a nationwide cinema release on 22 May.

Dish and Dishonesty (S3 Ep1)

In the latest entry to our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, we’re introducing Nicholas Lay, a new guest writer to the site, who’s inducting one of the most intelligent episodes from the BBC classic comedy, Blackadder.

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

dish and dishonesty 1In the spirit of the frantic general election that last week, as per usual, made a mockery of the political and social system in the UK, it seemed only natural that my contribution to Failed Critics 100 Greatest TV Shows should be the timeless send up of British politics that is the opening episode of the late 80s sitcom, Blackadder the Third. While II and Goes Forth are arguably stronger seasons, certainly in terms of consistency, and are no doubt more popular, I find it difficult to hold any single episode in higher favour than Dish and Dishonesty. Set during what could perhaps be considered a ‘brave’ time period selection – the turn of the 18th/19th century British Regency (a historical period lodged primarily in further education compared to the primary school-taught, everyone-knows-a-few-facts-about-them Elizabethan and WWI periods of II and Goes Forth respectively) – the episode features some of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s finest, altogether smartest writing, terrific performances and comic timing across the board, as well as probably my favourite Blackadder sequence of all time.

Right off the bat there are jokes aplenty regarding the rather backward electoral structure of the age, with facts presented that could essentially produce the humour out right due to the almost tragic nature of their genuine existence. Curtis and Elton of course sprinkle their delicious sense of exaggeration on virtually everything, but as is the case throughout Blackadder the comedy stems from the reality that, while ridiculous, each social and political aspect ridiculed to the extreme isn’t actually that far away from the truth. Within the first five minutes or so we’re treated to a brief history of the unfair manner of voting procedure (“Look at Manchester…population, sixty thousand; electoral roll, three”), an introduction to the running joke of an overly adolescent Pitt the Younger, and the outrageous class divide as depicted by Blackadder himself, who describes MP Sir Talbot Buxomley’s interests as “flogging servants, shooting poor people, and the extension of slavery to anyone who hasn’t got a knighthood”.

Although helped by the fact that period pieces tend to stand the test of the time with greater success than their contemporary cousins, Curtis and Elton were evidently masters of the sitcom set up of their day. Immediately punching out lines and gags of this ilk over and over again, they really allow the old day BBC studio audience to get their teeth into things from the off, thus pulling the whole thing off spectacularly well throughout. Incidentally, the episode is a fine example of a time when a live audience laughter track genuinely did drive and enhance the comedy, from the perspective of both the working actors and the end user, so to speak, in the form of the audience at home.

Working in tandem is the superb delivery provided by the cast, led by Rowan Atkinson’s legendary title character, whose bitter sense of both curiosity and utter loathing alike manifest themselves marvellously with each straight close-up of his subtle, completely apt facial expressions. His calm, permanently sarcastic demeanour in the face of complete buffoonery, both above (Hugh Laurie’s elite thicko, Prince George) and below him (Tony Robinson’s ever-present dogsbody, Baldrick), results in punch line after spot on punch line. Laurie excels opposite as the brain dead Prince, the non-state related concerns of whom remain consistently at the forefront of the comic proceedings (“Socks are like sex…tons of it about and I never seem to get any!”). The nauseating guest characters are as close to perfection as one is likely to find in sitcom history, with Dennis Lill’s grotesque, flushed elitist Buxomly’s brief cameo matched by the depiction of two-time Prime Minster Pitt the Younger, played wonderfully by Simon Osborne. Like the “Darling” gag during Goes Forth, the joke that the PM is a mere teenager is simple but genius in both subsequent connotation and all round execution, as he continuously spars with Blackadder in fantastically immature, highly patronising fashion.

The highlight of the episode is the development of the by-election held in the fictional corrupt rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold, discussed first by Blackadder and the Prince (in no other context could the lines “a small hen, its late forties” and “window tax” be delivered with such understated aplomb and work so damn well), before culminating in the eventual election declaration. One of the all time great moments of British television, the fourth wall-breaking election result – presented as a BBC-type event with contemporary political commentator Vincent Hanna speaking directly to the camera/audience – is a masterpiece of witty political satire. From start to end it precisely dissects the sometimes seemingly insane practice and nature of politics in the late 18th/early 19th century, alongside modern day politics and the ugly, concurrent themes of power, wealth, and corruption. The sight of Prince George holding Colin the dachshund and approving Mr. Hanna’s acknowledgement of the beast sets the tone for a scene in which each scenario, portrayal, and line is pure, side splitting gold. Baldrick’s old timey version of political “gagging”, Pitt the Even Younger crying to his mother in defeat, the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party’s policy of the compulsory serving of asparagus at breakfast, and Mr. Hanna’s Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette media outlet are just some of the standout moments, all held together by Blackadder’s treacherous, completely transparent rigging of the vote. Never again did a single scene have my heavily inebriated weeknight YouTube-watching first year history university student-self on the floor quite as long as this.

A momentous, everlasting piece of British comedy, Dish and Dishonesty opened a season that deservedly won the BAFTA for Best Comedy Series in 1988, with the episode itself a cornerstone of its success. The blend of quirky, restricted staging and cynical writing forever associated with the series is at its absolute strongest here, a factor from which the cast rose to the occasion to produce a practically flawless thirty minutes of television. To any fan of history, comedy or political satire who may have missed it, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. If you still don’t wish to give it a try, then I say, in the words of Mr. Pitt the Younger, poo to you with knobs on!

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

Failed Critics Podcast 150 Episode Preview

Yes, this is all a bit strange, isn’t it? Sending out a notice about a podcast that we haven’t even recorded yet, let alone published. Nevertheless, it’s something we’re quite excited to tell you about!

The beginning of April 2015 sees our shambolic weekly film podcast reach a huge milestone. After three years of getting together for an hour or two every week, nattering on about films and such, occasionally libelling celebrities or annoying each other, we’ve actually managed to reach one hundred and fifty episodes! That’s probably around 250+ hours since we first got together back in April 2012 to review Cabin In The Woods. A lot has changed since then. Our logo, the format of the podcast, even the members of the team. It’s expanded in number from just Steve, Gerry and James to the bloated mess you know us as today.

We’re very proud of this (perhaps not the bloated mess comment) and as a special treat, we’ve created this short 48 second long preview clip and uploaded it to this new website you might not have heard of called YouTube? It features Steve, Owen, Matt, Paul and Brooker who will all be appearing on our 150th episode.

We’ve got an epic quiz (for us, anyway), a slight variation on our usual “what we’ve been watching” section, which is basically us anonymously picking films for each other to watch (with sexy results?) and capping it off with a triple-triple bill. The team will each be picking their three favourite films in the opening triple bill, followed by three films that fit a “listener suggested” triple bill and a final wild card triple bill, where the Failed Critics can each pick whatever three films for whatever category they like.

Don’t forget to check back at the end of the week to download our podcast.

Enjoy!

Jupiter Ascending

Smart about being Stupid.

by Jackson Tyler (@Tylea002)

jupiter ascending 2If you’re anything like me, then you love Speed Racer with all of your heart. Eviscerated upon release, it has come to be seen as the Wachowskis’ true masterpiece by a growing segment of those who are referred to in hushed tones as “film people.” They’ll tell you it’s actually beautiful and earnest, a pure expression of the potential of cinema without a cynical bone in its body. I am one of those film people, and I am here to tell you that it’s happening again.

Jupiter Ascending is not the quite cinematic revelation that Speed Racer was, buts its more conventional aesthetic choices are balanced with its nostalgic commitment to genre and a greater thematic richness. A space opera in the most literal of senses, it is a melodramatic love story, a wondrous tour through decadent costume and set design, and a pointed takedown of the underlying amorality of capitalism.

Summarising Jupiter Ascending is more than a little difficult, the plot initially laying the groundwork for a chosen-one teen drama, before instead shifting into the action-packed proceedings of intergalactic corporate legalese. Warring members of one of the universe’s largest family businesses fight over the deeds to the Earth, and somehow at the heart of all this is Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones, a poor girl still cleaning toilets every day. She is the film’s emotional heart, swept up into the drama through nothing but chance, shepherded from plot point to plot point, a cog in a machine that cares not one iota for her agency or personhood. The convoluted story and Jupiter’s passive nature are reminiscent of recurring complaints levied at your Twilights, your Divergents etc., but here the film elevates them from narrative flaws to integral thematic components. Jupiter Ascending doesn’t inherit the problems of its genre, it confronts them.

All that makes Jupiter Ascending seem like a dry affair, but the reality couldn’t be further than the truth. It’s dripping in camp, from Eddie Redmayne’s villainous drawl to the time it decides to just turn into Brazil for about five minutes. The film’s true strength is the lost art of sincerity, it embraces the inherent stupidity of its space opera universe and still commits to every single beat. Much like Lucy last year, it is smart and stupid in equal measure, celebrating its pulpy nature and never undercutting either it or its thematic ideas in order to bolster the other. I like Guardians of the Galaxy as much as the next guy, but if the only way we’re going to get space bombast in the future is to couch it in a self-effacing layer of snarky detachment, then we’re living in a sad world indeed.

Ultimately, these are not the words I truly want to write about Jupiter Ascending. Those words would be full of spoilers, a parsing of the films specific themes and ambitions, a celebration of every campy line read and overwrought piece of set design. It is a film that demands its audience to meet it half way, and if you do, there is so much worth talking about on the side. For a film that also features Bees genetically engineered to recognise space royalty, I cannot think of a greater compliment.

Be on the right side of history, this time. Go see Jupiter Ascending, then we’ll have the right conversation.

Jupiter Ascending is in cinemas in the UK right now (finally) and you can find Jackson Tyler on the gaming blog and podcast site Abnormal Mapping. If you like the site, why not support them via their Patreon page?

Tusk

After being put to the vote by listeners of SModcast, Kevin Smith gave the people what they wanted and created his latest movie, Tusk. Paul has seen it and retained the same expression as Justin Long has in our feature image throughout the entire film.

by Paul Field (@pafster)

lily_rose_tusksI know this story. I know it really well as it originated locally. But in case you don’t, here’s the condensed version:

Ad appears in Brighton Gumtree for a lodger. A free room in a nice flat in central Brighton if – and only if – well see for yourself, here’s the quotes from the ad direct:

“To take on the position as my lodger you must be prepared to wear a walrus suit for approximately two hours each day.” “Whilst in the walrus costume you must be a walrus – there must be no speaking in a human voice, and any communication must entail making utterances in the voice of a walrus.”

Hey don’t knock it, the rents in Brighton are sky high! This story was subsequently picked up and discussed on SModcast, the popular Kevin Smith chat / irreverent / stoner / news & nonsense podcast.

From that was born TUSK !!

And that’s where it all starts falling apart. Smith relocates the Tusk story from central Brighton, to a secluded large house in Canada. Gumtree is gone and replaced by a handwritten note pinned on a pub notice board. Then Smith pours in a gallon of references and in jokes from his podcast.

Casting, Justin Long is always good value, but Michael Parks being forced to deliver a dreadful script is floundering early doors. Haley Joel Osment turns up (that kid who could see dead people… but now he’s fat). But it’s up to Johnny Depp to deliver (in his mind) a wonderfully quirky performance as the slightly bumbling French Canadian, Guy Lapointe. The reality: a tragic and ridiculous Depp mucks about on screen with a silly accent and a crap false moustache, all on your dime and time. Smith and Depp are not finished yet though, they serve up their kids as some kind of ‘nod to Clerks‘ double act working in a Canadian convenience store. Utterly, utterly terrible. Go on say, “abooot” instead of “about” again, no go on… please, it’s hilarious… that’s the best gag in the whole film. No, really.

If you’re expecting a terrifying Parks slowly toying with Long.. not really. He tries to bore him to death. If you’re expecting a hilarious romp… no, definitely not. There’s no jokes (funny ones that is), there’s no scares. There is a horrific reveal, but it’s sudden, fully lit and completely matter of fact, no hints of what’s to come in the darkness. This feels like a horror made by somebody who’s never seen a horror film. That it fails on the jokes front too, from Kevin Smith, that’s unforgivable.

The call backs to his podcast and the original tale are really, really irritating. Characters called Bryton, Lapointe, Gumtree; it’s really jarring and dumb if you know the references, and just plain baffling if you dont.

I love Clerks, I love Clerks 2, I even like Jersey Girl! I’ve seen all his films, I own the lot, have seen him live, swapped banter, bought untold items from his Secret Stash store in New Jersey. Hell I even had a story included in SModcast. I was his target audience for this.

Its utter garbage, but cheer up, the whole cast is back for Yoga Hosers, where Depp returns as Lapointe and goes on an adventure with Little Depp and Little Smith. There’s a third part too, but I lost the will to live researching the second…