Tag Archives: 2013

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

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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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

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Half A Decade In Film – 2013

The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.

It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew  McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.

It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…


Rush

Rush Chris HemsworthHappiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.

Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.

Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.

There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.

The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.

Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempo (aka The House of the End Time)

house at the end of timeThere’s no turning back

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.

I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.

A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.

Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.

The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.

We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.

It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.

The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.

If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.

Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


A Field In England

A072_C001_1001IE“Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right?
Whitehead: Is that not usual?
Friend: Not in Essex.

Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.

Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.

I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!

Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.

The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIMFortune favours the brave, dude.

Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?

So why were we watching this again?

I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.

You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.

So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!

Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.

If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Matterhorn

matterhornYeah

This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.

Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.

We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!

Turbo

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Last year, DreamWorks Animation celebrated its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch has been going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


turbo-sq1000_s8_f122_cc-2_rgb27] Turbo (17th July 2013)

Budget: $127 million

Gross: $282,570,682

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%

I really couldn’t have planned this better, folks.  Turbo really is the perfect note to send the Retrospective home on – film-wise, in any case, we still have two weeks left – because it not only perfectly demonstrates why DreamWorks Animation are currently struggling at the box office, but also excellently embodies the evolution of “The DreamWorks Movie”, the type of film that animation fans like to deride and flanderize DreamWorks as only making, which, as this series should have proven, is mostly patently untrue.  In a perfect world, I’d have the time to look at the film in-depth from both angles, but word counts are word counts, so we’ll speed through the box office stuff and then dive into the true meat of the matter: the film itself.

Turbo bombed.  Turbo bombed.  It didn’t cost DreamWorks Animation as much as Rise of the Guardians did, but it was still the second write-down that the company had to take in as many years – not to mention that Mr. Peabody & Sherman would force them to take yet another write-down not 9 months later.  Two straight bombs for an independent studio sure as hell rattles investor confidence, although confidence in Turbo’s TV spin-off – Turbo: FAST on Netflix, one of the shows that we’ll be looking at next week – may explain why Katzenberg broke the news by basically going, “Well, at least it was ONLY $13.5 million this time!”  (Plus another $2.1 million later once the film finished underperforming overseas.Turbo failed to break $100 million domestic, becoming the lowest-grossing CG DreamWorks film domestically ever – until Penguins of Madagascar managed to sail under even that low bar – and you don’t even need to adjust for inflation as it grossed even less than Antz!

Unfortunately, for those of you looking for a giant point-by-point breakdown as to precisely why a film like Turbo failed, much like I did for Rise of the Guardians a fortnight back, the reasons as to why Turbo failed are extremely simple and honestly rather justified.  The first is that release date: July 17th 2013.  It is like 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks were trying to kill the film before it had the chance to get started!  That is a release date that came a month after Monsters University, two weeks after juggernaut Despicable Me 2 – which actually beat Turbo in the latter’s opening weekend, which is sorta tragic – and two weeks before Planes dropped.  Not to mention the fact that Summer 2013 was, erm, CROWDED, to say the least.  Animation fatigue, coupled with the fact that all of those other films are connected to already-liked franchises and DreamWorks’ prior-discussed problems with oversaturation, undoubtedly lead to a belief in the general public that they could give Turbo a miss and have no protestations from their kids.

The other problem stems from Turbo looking incredibly, kinda insultingly generic, unoriginal, and rip-off-y.  I mean, look at this goddamn trailer.

Does anything about that trailer scream anything other than “Generic DreamWorks Film #278”?  It’s a talking animal movie (check) about impossible dreams (check) where the message is that you can totally achieve those unachievable dreams if you wish hard enough (check) with an all-star cast providing the voices (check), including some prime A-grade stunt casting (big check), all set to a licensed soundtrack (check) and a whole bunch of jokes that come from pop culture references, animals doing and saying non-animal things, and silly catchphrases for the kids (check, check, and WHITE SHADOW!).  Oh, and that DreamWorks smirk (checks the size of George Clooney’s starring fees).

By this point in time, “The DreamWorks Movie” had bled over into popular consciousness.  No longer just a derogatory thought process held by film critics and snarky animation buffs, it seems that the mainstream audience were now tired of the DreamWorks schtick.  What was once a fresh, original voice in a stale animated feature landscape is now itself the stale voice in a fresh, original animated feature landscape.  As previously mentioned, DreamWorks were still trying to party like it was 2007 and they were the only names on the block, so people would have to turn up to their films.  Unfortunately, nowadays, animation is very competitive and one needs to have a new, exciting voice to stand out.  Pulling the same trick out with seemingly no variation makes you seem disposable, and parents don’t have time for disposable films in today’s ultra-competitive animated landscape.

No, seriously, look at this upcoming slate of animated features of the next 22 months.  It is ridiculous in the best possible way!

And DreamWorks’ constant returning to that “The DreamWorks Movie” formula, even whilst they tried to re-invent their image with more dramatic, emotionally-engaging, and (for lack of a better word) prestige pieces – said returns coming from films like Megamind, Puss In Boots, and now Turbo – can lead to backlash, as people return to the Shrek series and Shark Tale and realise that they weren’t as good as they thought they were.  This is why Shrek Forever After did badly by Shrek standards, yet Madagascar 3 shattered box office records for its series.  The former refused to adapt sufficiently, making tentative steps towards a newer, less pop-culture focussed identity but pulling back to safety at every opportunity, and was punished for it, whilst Madagascar actively found its own voice, as a wild silly cartoon, committed to it, and was rewarded forty-fold because it was something different.

Hence why Turbo was probably doomed from the start, even if it wasn’t released immediately after two guaranteed monster hits.  It looks like the kind of film that DreamWorks should have stopped making by this point.  Christ, it even has Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, who had just come straight from DreamWorks’ own The Croods from back in March, using the exact same voice as the one he used in The Croods!  Now, I know what you’re expecting, by this point.  You’re expecting me to now turn around and refute this entire assumption, reveal the film to secretly be some kind of pro-feminist piece or secret satire of the kinds of knock-offs that the studio had spawned and indulged in since their success or something.  That’s pretty much been my thing with this series, after all, going far deeper than most people are willing to go to when looking at and analysing these films, finding new angles and such.

Well, not this time, because they were right.  Turbo is “The DreamWorks Movie”.  Those trailers and awful aggressive pun-based taglines – “He’s fast, they’re furious”?  Oh, God, just kill me already – were not setting up some kind of Bee Movie-style refuge in audacity bait-and-switch.  Turbo is the movie that you’re being sold.  It’s a film with pop culture references as the primary source of humour in a landscape where the most successful films get their jokes from physical comedy and character work.  It’s a film that casts Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson as snails whose roles are basically “Snoop Dogg” and “Samuel L. Jackson”, in a landscape that casts Idina Menzel in a big Broadway-style musical and gives her an actual character to play.  It’s a film with an unnecessarily large budget in a landscape where non-Disney-affiliated outlets aim to produce quality at a sustainable sub-$100 mil budget.

It’s a film that stops for a full minute to poke fun at annoying auto-tuned YouTube remixes of stupid stuff, long after those stopped being entertaining prospects in their own right, by doing its own annoying auto-tuned YouTube remix of stupid stuff, and it is exactly as awkward and unfunny as it reads on paper.

So why do I really like Turbo?

I mean, from everything that I’ve written about the film so far, I should hate the damn thing, and that YouTube remix really should have murdered the entire film by itself.  So why, despite setting off every single goddamn alarm bell that I have, do I really like Turbo?  Well, much like every other answer in this article, it’s quite simple: there’s heart here.  There’s heart in the film’s central dynamics – it’s a tale of two sets of brothers, Turbo & Chet, the snails, and Tito & Angelo, the humans who end up spiriting them away and looking after them, and the film does a good job at playing with the parallels – but that’s not what I mean when I say that there’s “heart”.

What’s the typical mode of attachment with “The DreamWorks Movie”?  Does it have genuine affection for its characters, set-up, mechanics, and general existence?  Or is it distant, snarky, and dismissive about all of that?  Well, if it was the latter, then I imagine that Shreks 2 and The Third, Shark Tale and, arguably due to its occasionally cruel tone, the first Madagascar wouldn’t be so reviled.  Formula is rarely noticed so readily and so dismissively by the general public if the film itself is happy to be here and happy to be doing what it sets out to do; once again: The Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Most of the lower-quality DreamWorks films – again, the first Madagascar is only included here because of those occasional moments where it forgoes its own voice in favour of sticking to formula – feel cynical from frame one, a conscious decision to just redo the Shrek formula for money instead of telling the stories they want to tell.

Turbo almost never gives off this feeling.  This doesn’t feel like a film by formula because Katzenberg wanted to guarantee a profit, this feels like a film by formula because the people making it genuinely seem to love working from it.  They recognise that it’s not perfect, hence the injection of genuine heart to ground proceedings, but they love it anyway, and that shot of love and energy is what proves to be the revitalising spark required to make the film work.  That’s why the pop culture references inspire some genuine laughs and chuckles instead of just sighs of derision, they’ve had full-on thought put into them: for example, Turbo’s radio problems received genuine laughs from me because the songs fit the situation, the animation has a field day, and each instance of the joke doesn’t outstay its welcome, in contrast to the Pied Piper from Shrek Forever After.

That’s why Samuel L. Jackson playing Snail Samuel L. Jackson works, because the love for that idea means that the film commits to it.  Robert de Niro playing Shark Robert de Niro in Shark Tale was lazy, never fully committing enough to the idea and instead just having him say vaguely Robert de Niro things in a kid-friendly manner, as if the film is constantly stopping to remind you of its joke.  Turbo, though, commits and so we get a snail who has the same kind of attitude, authority, and gravitas as Samuel L. Jackson, but who manages to still feel like a distinct entity because the film doesn’t bend over backwards to remind you that, “No, guys! It’s Samuel L. Jackson as a snail!”

That’s why the extremely generic nature of the entire film – it’s basically a pastiche of A Bug’s Life, Antz, Ratatouille, Toy Story, Cars, and at least a dozen other animated films that have slipped my mind right now – works, because it cribs and borrows from so many elements yet the Frankenstein’s Monster hybrid still feels uniquely Turbo thanks to a focus on a more Latino viewpoint with the human cast.  That’s why the constant licensed music cues work, because they’ve been carefully matched for optimal strength – OK, “Jump Around” is majorly on-the-nose for its scene but it’s still a great drop, and the mashup of “Eye of the Tiger” and “Holler If Ya Hear Me” is both frickin’ genius and the best usage of “Eye of the Tiger” in years.  That’s why that DreamWorks Smirk works, because its deployment in-film is legitimately awesome!

It’s a laundry list of DreamWorks tropes, yet almost every one of their usages works, even having Angelo’s character design heavily resemble that of his voice actor, Luis Guzmán.  Therefore, it might come as both a major and not-at-all surprise to discover that the Turbo’s director and co-writer (from an idea of his own), David Soren, has been a mainstay at DreamWorks for most of its history.  The “not-at-all” part coming from the fact that this is a film that could only have been made by somebody who has been a long-time member of DreamWorks and who is determined to remind the viewing public that formula and tropes are not necessarily bad things.  The “major” part coming from the fact that David Soren was the Head Of Story of Shark Tale and, as we already know, Shark Tale is one of the absolute worst films ever released.

Yet, here, he is energised, he is happy, he is heartfelt, a man with something to prove.  The idea was his own, the result of DreamWorks holding an internal one-time only competition for a one-page film pitch that he won by pitching exactly what you’re thinking Turbo would be pitched like, and it had been gestating for years before finally getting made.  Soren is clearly in love with his idea, he’s also in love with the formula – I don’t know why I don’t put quotation marks over every instance of that word, this series has hopefully shown you that DreamWorks didn’t really have a pre-ordained formula and it’s a common misconception – and he’s clearly excited to be making this film.  That’s why nearly everything works!

In fact, I’d argue that Turbo is actually a better Cars movie than the original Cars.  There are distinct Radiator Springs feels towards the Starlight Plaza strip mall that our human characters reside in, a corner of Los Angeles that nobody visits and who just want people to patronise their businesses.  Then, in flies this hotshot racer, by accident, who may just be what they need to save their forgotten part of town.  Where Turbo surpasses Cars in this department is in characterisation.  Cars clearly sketches its supporting cast in a way where they are solely defined by their one character trait – the hippie, the drill sergeant, the sassy black female – and where it’s hard to imagine them as anything else.

Turbo barely features and characterises those non-Tito good humans, which kinda begs the question as to why you’d hire Michelle Rodriguez but hey ho, but that makes them contradictorily much deeper.  By not defining them as anything specifically, besides the most minor of glimpses that we get, then they feel less stereotypical, less rigidly defined.  I find it easier to see them as full-on people instead of walking stereotypes, who have lives outside of the plot of the film, whereas I just find the secondary cast of Cars to be, well, the secondary cast of characters in an animated movie.  I can’t really explain why, but it just works and that makes me care more about them as a result.

Of course, this all being said, Turbo is not a particularly great movie.  By its design, the most it’s aiming to be is a fun way to spend 95 minutes whilst telling a story with heart and proving that formula is not necessarily bad.  It’s a fun time with a nice heart-lifting centre and climax, but nothing that connects on an especially deep level.  Penguins of Madagascar aims for a similar thing but its deviations from formula and the sheer surprising extent of its heart make it ascend past the level of fun, diverting entertainment.  Turbo doesn’t quite manage that, although it really tries, especially by having a lead character who is just the definition of “lovable determined underdog that you can’t help but root for”.

More problematic is the film’s gender issues.  This is resolutely a boy’s tale, which means that the three female characters with speaking lines are shunted to the side-lines; not inherently a bad thing.  The problems set in with the characterisations.  The lone female snail, played by Maya Rudolph, is an aggressively flirtatious being whose sole defining trait – hence why I praised the purposeful malleability of the human cast earlier – is that she is stalker-obsessed with Chet, recalling the purposeful marginalisation of female cast members in at least half of DreamWorks’ filmic output.  Michelle Rodriguez’s character mostly just exists, but the real problem is Kim-Ly, an elderly manicurist played by Ken Jeong.

Yes, really.  Her character is fine – again, malleability – but it’s the fact that Ken Jeong was hired to do the voice.  On its own, in the context of this film with the rest of DreamWorks’ history put to one side, it’s a bit of slightly racially insensitive stunt casting but mostly slips by fine on the strength of Jeong’s committed performance.  In context with the studio’s history, it’s those things and also a perfect encapsulation of their typical depiction of women in their films: love interests, or barely there non-entities whose existences will be undercut at every opportunity for gags; gags like, “Ha! That woman is being voiced by a man!”  Let’s not forget, this is a company that released two Shrek sequels where their interpretation of The Ugly Stepsister was that she looked like a transsexual and was voiced by Larry King and “Eeeeeewwwww!!!”

Again, this isn’t really a knock against Turbo, per se: the film is very good and I really like it.  But Turbo is also a walking embodiment of DreamWorks The Studio and its evolution from Shrek 12 years earlier to near-enough now.  DreamWorks The Studio has nearly always had a problem with the female gender and Turbo, by pure accident, demonstrates why.  DreamWorks The Studio is rarely the most original studio on the block, and Turbo ends up being a collage of nearly every animated film released in the previous decade.  DreamWorks The Studio, due to its multiple films a year production model, doesn’t aim for the stars with every film, and Turbo shows that that’s perfectly fine when the film is really good but also explains why many of the studio’s films are underperforming: it’s not essential, which doesn’t cut it so well in today’s landscape.

Turbo, essentially, is a film made like it’s still 2007, like its mere existence guarantees that it will be a success because DreamWorks are on a roll and why would anybody watch anything else over this?  Again, this is not to disparage the film which is a very good film that I really like, but it is as perfect an encapsulation as any as to why DreamWorks are not doing so hot right now.  For example, that budget means that the film looks damn great, but I think that the art style and colour scheme are strong enough on their own that the excess detail is unnecessary gloss that over-inflates the budget – I think you could get a film that looks close to as good as how this one looks for about $30 million less if the excess detail were stripped out.

But I feel there’s no better indicator as to where DreamWorks currently are in the animated feature landscape than this comparison.  Turbo is a film that teaches viewers that you can follow any dream and succeed with a whole lotta belief and little bit of luck.  In the same twelve month period that Turbo came out, however, Monsters University and Wreck-It Ralph taught viewers that there are, in fact, limits as to what you can achieve, but that that’s OK and that giving up on your dreams in favour of finding something else you’re good at that can bring you joy is not necessarily a bad thing.

Disney had begun re-inventing itself by offering more modern messages, stories and ways of communicating both, re-establishing themselves as must-see viewing.  DreamWorks were still doing what they were known for doing nearly a decade ago.  Their successes came from divergence from that, but their inability (and I mean they literally cannot afford to) to move away from an efficient factory-like release and production schedule means that those get hobbled as they are still not truly must-see viewing.  Feature-length animation is leaving DreamWorks behind; they need to adapt or die.


Next week, we take one last detour into the world of television to look at the studio’s various televised spin-offs of their successful (and not so successful) movies, as we try and figure out why the studio seems to be having more luck in television at the moment than they are film.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch’s God in him saw the Devil in you.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Croods

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Last year, DreamWorks Animation celebrated its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch has been going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


croods26] The Croods (22nd March 2013)

Budget: $135 million

Gross: $587,204,668

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

Lilo & Stitch takes its time before revealing its heart.  Oh, sure, its appearance is obvious from pretty much the start of the film, but the true extent of its heart isn’t revealed until later into the movie, firstly disarming and softening up the audience with extremely funny comedy and then, when their guards are down, putting them through the emotional ringer.  It swings for the fences – of course it does, it’s a Disney movie, that’s what they do – but waits until such a time that the act is earned.  It’s also a flawlessly constructed film that never puts a foot wrong, contradicts itself or bends the world to the will of its protagonists, but the tone and heart reveal is still mighty important.

By contrast, How To Train Your Dragon, after its purposefully slightly chaotic opening scene, wastes no time revealing its heart.  If Lilo & Stitch hides the extent of its heart and then gradually rolls up its sleeve, How To Train Your Dragon rips off its sleeve at the outset and spends its runtime shoving it in your face screaming, “LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT MY HEART AND EMOTIONS!”  It swings for the fences from the outset over everything which makes certain scenes and gestures feel unearned because its prior swinging for the fences ends up accidentally robbing certain scenes of their impact – or, in other words, the Stoick and Hiccup stuff doesn’t work because Stoick is mostly just a one-dimensional disapproving jackass until he isn’t, which makes him insufferable until the switch and makes the switch itself ring hollow.  It’s also a problematic film that doesn’t quite work, due to it contradicting itself, bending the world to the will of its protagonist, and that certain other thing that I still can’t explain, but I know I’m in the minority on all of this.

Of these two approaches, The Croods opts for the first, which itself is a smart idea – and before I go on, I must stress that I say this because I prefer films with pacing, not because I think that all animation should be like Disney; I don’t think that.  But it also tries something different than the prior two, it rarely swings for the fences with its heart.  Oh, it still swings for the fences with its comedy, which is broad and loud and very physical in nature, but when it does reveal its giant beating heart, it’s decidedly more reserved, more understated.  There are still grand emotional gestures and BIG scenes, but in a way that doesn’t feel as pervasive as in those other two movies.

Now, of course, this might also be down to my own personal baggage.  Lilo & Stitch’s heart trades on the bond between a “pet” and their owner, and the general bond of a family regardless of how non-traditional they may be – which both worked, and still do work, gangbusters for me – whilst How To Train Your Dragon’s heart trades on the bond between a “pet” and their owner, and the approval of and bonding between a father and son – the second of which, as previously discussed in detail and thanks to personal stuff, does not work for me.  The Croods’ heart, by contrast, focusses solely on dad Grug’s attempts to protect and earn love from his family.  It doesn’t have a secondary outlet for its heart, like those other films do, especially since Eep is way less important to the film than she first appears – more on that shortly – and my general disinterest with tales about fathers and father figures in media may explain why I found the heart of this film less in-my-face than in Lilo & Stitch.

Not to say that it doesn’t work, mind.  The Croods pulls it off spectacularly well, which is why I rate the film so highly – more on that in a moment – but that’s probably why I find it more quietly moving instead of openly moving.  Looking at family through the perspective of women, and especially sisters and mother figures, touches and interests me based on my own experiences, so Lilo & Stitch’s heart piledrives me into the middle of next week.  I am a dog owner back home, so that part of How To Train Your Dragon’s heart shivs me in the gut.  But father figures have never held as much of an impact for me as I was primarily raised by my mother, so The Croods’ heart makes me warm and fuzzy but not as majorly as in those prior films.

Those of you who do not obsessively follow along to director’s credits in animated movies may be wondering why I have spent so long comparing The Croods to How To Train Your Dragon and Lilo & Stitch.  Well, each of those films share a co-writer/co-director in the shape of one Chris Sanders.  Sanders began his career as a character designer for criminally forgotten 1980s kids TV series Muppet Babies, before making the transition to Walt Disney Feature Animation during their Renaissance in the 90s, working predominately on story for The Rescuers Down Under, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast, along with helping script Mulan.  In the late-90s, Sanders was approached by then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner to direct his own film, under the provision that its budget would be lower than typical Disney fare ($80 mil for Stitch vs. $130 mil for Tarzan, for example).  Dean DeBlois would eventually be brought on to co-write and co-direct, and the results would come forth in 2002’s very successful Lilo & Stitch.

Then, however, something happened.  Sanders had started significant work on American Dog, a film about a Hollywood star dog who gets lost in the desert.  By the time that it came to screen the film to higher-up executives, control of Disney’s feature animation division had switched from Michael Eisner to Bob Iger, and ex-Pixar head John Lasseter – who, according to rumours that I can’t substantiate, was allegedly not a fan of Lilo & Stitch – was brought on as Chief Creative Officer of the studio.  These test screenings did not go well and Sanders was inundated with notes and suggestions.  According to Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and several other animators, but not Sanders himself – he has stayed quiet on the issue – Sanders actively resisted these changes and was removed from the film.  Soon after, Sanders negotiated his release from Disney and signed onto DreamWorks.

(Because I know you’re curious: American Dog was handed over to Chris Williams of The Emperor’s New Groove and Byron Howard of Tangled, re-tooled significantly in the space of just 18 months, and released as the mild 2008 hit Bolt.)

Upon joining DreamWorks, Sanders got to work on Crood Awakenings, which itself has had a tumultuous road to being a finished product.  First announced in 2005, the film was to be another entry into DreamWorks’ five-picture deal with Aardman Animations, with a script by Racing Stripes and Quest For Camelot writer Kirk DeMicco and John Cleese.  Yes, that John Cleese.  The pair had been trying to get a film version of Roald Dhal’s The Twits made, which lead to DreamWorks getting a hold of their script and inviting the pair to work on an idea of the company’s, them both settling on the germ of an idea that would grow into The Croods.  Of course, the Aardman angle didn’t pan out – more on that in the Flushed Away entry – and the rights reverted back to DreamWorks.

Enter Chris Sanders in March of 2007.  DreamWorks’ newest signee was barely in the door and already chomping at the bit to get to work on a new film, even planning on significantly re-writing the film in question.  This was to be Sanders’ big new pet project… and then How To Train Your Dragon happened.  Prior to Sanders and DeBlois coming aboard, the project was allegedly a mess and needed a total overhaul, with Co-President for Production Bill Damaschke believing Sanders to be the best man for the job.  Sanders called in DeBlois, the duo remade and re-tooled How To Train Your Dragon in the space of a year, it received critical acclaim and financial success, and then, with DeBlois staying on Dragon duty, Sanders moved back to The Croods, with DeMicco returning to the project in a co-writer/co-director capacity.

The resulting film… is nowhere near as monumental or interesting as its journey into existence, hence the last page of content.  Isn’t it interesting to see how chaotic the world of animation can get, though?  Look, I like The Croods – I think that it’s a very funny, very well-animated, and surprisingly moving film – but there’s not really much to say about it because it doesn’t swing for the fences.  It tries to be lower-key in nearly every facet, a film that works as entertaining entertainment and not much more.  It succeeds, and I must respect a film that knows its limits and doesn’t try to be something that it’s not, but that automatically makes it the least interesting of Chris Sanders’ projects to talk about – Lilo & Stitch is an amazing movie that I could talk for hours about, How To Train Your Dragon has its conflicted push-pull nature and problematic issues that keep it from greatness which makes it interesting to talk about, The Croods… has clever character animation? Where the titular family only occasionally walk like recognisable humans, instead remaining in their less-developed Neanderthal states.

The one really interesting thing about the film that I can go into detail about is with regards to the film’s main character.  Now, going into this film, I had been led to believe that Eep, the daughter of the clan voiced by Emma Stone, was the lead character of the film.  The marketing had said so, the entire premise of the film hinged on her, and Sanders had worked with female protagonists before with Lilo & Stitch – Lilo’s arc in that film being just as vital and central to the film as Stitch’s.  I even noted The Croods down in my Monsters vs. Aliens piece as one of 11 animated films in the last decade to feature lead female protagonists that aren’t princesses (because this medium does have a gender problem).

Turns out that a severe hoodwinking has been ongoing as Eep is not the protagonist of The Croods.  Instead, she’s the perspective of The Croods, she’s how we see the family and how we’re supposed to feel about them changes as her thoughts on them change.  She provides the bookending narration speeches that animated films are overly fond of nowadays, but her arc is relatively minor – learning to not resent her father so much – and she’s shuffled back into the deck once the real narrative momentum kicks in.  She is not our protagonist.  Our protagonist is actually Grug, the Nicholas Cage voiced patriarch of the family, and his arc – where he learns that change and new are not necessarily bad things and that being overly protective is going to drive his family away from him – is the one that gets the lion’s share of the screen time.

Now, yes, I was and still am disappointed by this reveal.  Animation has a major gender problem – there’s nothing wrong with princesses as a concept, but there is something wrong when they are the only option available – and there should be more female-led and female-focussed and female-created animation out there.  Going to all of the effort of making out an animated film to be about the lead female character only to have the actual film side-line her in favour of focussing near-exclusively on the father – and the boy that she’s fascinated by and sweet on, Guy – feels like, for lack of a better phrase, a real dick move.

That being said, the stuff with Grug is really well-done, enlivened by the fact that we are encouraged to look at him primarily through Eep’s eyes.  Grug starts the film as a real irritant, a drag whose desire to protect his family crosses the line from nobly intentioned to selfishly suffocating, but he’s not solely that.  He’s capable of being funny, his tight-knit plans do help the family to survive in certain cases, and he does truly care.  But because we see him through Eep’s eyes, we also see how his intentions can be perceived by people who aren’t as fanatically devoted to him.  It keeps the viewer at that distance since, otherwise, the film runs the risk of becoming a “Father Knows Best, You Silly Women” story instead of a tale about a father learning to loosen his control on the world, accept change and tell his family every once in a while that he does truly love them.

The film commits to this too.  Grug comes further and further to the forefront as the film progresses, first becoming petty, out-of-his-element, and spiteful over the world telling him that his daughter and the new man taking charge of his family’s life are both right, before eventually softening, working through his issues, and becoming a more noble and tolerant member of the family.  Each stage corresponds to Eep’s relationship with Grug, with the tonal handling of the whole affair – first wacky comedy, then pathetic bitter alienator, awkward cringe comedy, and finally genuine heartfelt sincerity – providing a strong marker for how far along his road he is.

It all leads up to the sequence in which Grug selflessly throws the clan and Guy across the chasm, recognising that he can’t adapt and that the best thing that could happen for the family that he cares for is to sacrifice himself to save them.  That’s the moment in which The Croods reveals that it’s been buttering up the audience for a genuine emotional payoff, and it’s a legitimately moving sequence.  I was even genuinely fooled into thinking that this was the film’s endgame.  The film is building, from pretty much the outset, to some kind of grand gesture that puts Grug back into the genuine best interests of the family without suffocating them, and this seemed to be it.  I genuinely thought that we would end with Grug dead and the family making a new life for themselves in the new world, especially since there is no full-on antagonist for the film; wise move.

I mean, it obviously wasn’t going to, this is a family film after all and family animation rarely seems to want to push itself to as dark places as the medium and genre used to, but I believed it might, which is a credit to the film’s writing, pacing, and individual scene direction.  Therefore, as legitimately sweet as the final 15 minutes are, they still feel a little extraneous; the film rewarding Grug’s redemption and selfless act of kindness by reuniting him with those he values most.  Not helped, mind you, by the fact that his story offers three separate endings of varying quality for Grug before it settles on the Second Chance ending.  Again, it’s my fault for thinking that this light-hearted family comedy would end in a way that could even be remotely construed as bittersweet, but it still feels like punch-pulling.

Then again, if it had, audiences probably wouldn’t have kept coming back.  Yes, at the time when DreamWorks needed it most – mainly because of what’s to come, which we mostly won’t be covering here – The Croods was an out-of-the-box hit.  It opened to a great $43 million, comfortably beating the rest of the chart, and the typical strong DreamWorks hold – even major underperformers like Mr. Peabody & Sherman (32%), Rise of the Guardians (43.7%), and next week’s Turbo (35.5%) rarely drop more than 50% between opening and second weekends – was bolstered by a near-total lack of competition and strong audience reception, helping it to a very strong 10-week run on the Top 10.  It would close a hair’s breadth away from $190 million domestic.  Overseas, the film also did excellently, securing another $400 million, and making The Croods the ninth highest-grossing DreamWorks film worldwide.

So, why?  Why The Croods?  This is the through-line for the final leg of this series, after all; why The Croods was majorly successful and yet Turbo and Rise of the Guardians were not?  Well, much like with the film itself, the answers are pretty obvious and unspectacular, but you can’t exactly dispute what you’re seeing because, hey, they work, don’t they?  First off, the release date: end of March.  Same release date as the first How To Train Your Dragon, which worked gangbusters before and why not stake out a little patch of Chris Sanders’ own?  Plus, it was also the first proper animated film of 2013, Escape From Planet Earth came and went with almost literally no fuss a month earlier, and the next film for release, Epic by Blue Sky Pictures, wasn’t due for two full months which, in box office land, is practically an automatic monopoly for whatever did take its slot.

(Side Bar Notice, real quick: after Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks Animation had fulfilled their contract with Paramount and, thanks to Paramount offering them a poor deal and wishing to make their own in-house animation studio, the company switched distributors to 20th Century Fox, where The Croods was distributed.  20th Century Fox also own Blue Sky, makers of Epic, so this release date will have been strategically determined and deliberated on majorly for a long, long time.  In fact, with the exception of next week’s Turbo, one can’t really foot the blame on DreamWorks’ underperformance with release dates, Fox have been really good to them with that.  Anyways…)

Second off, marketing.  If you haven’t yet, scroll back up and watch the first trailer for this film.  Yes, it recalls the tone of How To Train Your Dragon, but the tone of How To Train Your Dragon is also markedly different to anything DreamWorks have cooked up, especially in regards to the marketing.  The comedy isn’t excessively broad, that wondrous sense of discovery that the film has is on display, it doesn’t give away every beat and every gag but the audience knows what they’re in for, which is what Rise of the Guardians didn’t do and consequently paid a heavy price for it.  It’s a good trailer, it’s a strong trailer, and other types of marketing were bloody everywhere come release time, you couldn’t move for advertising material of some kind for The Croods.  Fox put their all into the marketing for this one and did so in a way that differentiated the film from the accepted tired DreamWorks formula without confusing or leaving the audience in the dark.

And third off, it’s a funny heart-warming film about family by a really talented storyteller.  Of course it was going to do well!  Good films about families will always, always bond with the movie-going public.  They’re sweet and sincere in a way that resonates harder with audiences because the typical audience for animated features nowadays are families.  It allows the heart to cross age levels, tap into insecurities in all generations, go broad but not gross with the humour because most audience members need to get every joke, and just generally be true family viewing.  Why do you think Paddington is still raking in all of the money ever?

The Croods is small and intimate and character-focussed, which is something that family filmmaking has mostly forgotten nowadays in search of spectacle, but the ones that do remember are the ones that end up making the most cash.  There is spectacle in The Croods, that $135 million budget is not just from it being 8 bloody years in the making, but it never drowns out that character-focussed centre, and those are the films that stick with people and the families that the film is aimed at.  I don’t think The Croods is brilliant, not by any stretch of the term, but it is very good for thuddingly obvious reasons that become clear when watched, and the reason why The Croods was a major success is not because of any fancy formula.  It’s just a very good film, marketed brilliantly with a clear target audience that it speaks directly to, released at a perfect time.


Next week, we close out the film side of this series by looking at a film with poor marketing, a target audience that no longer exists, that was released at the single worst possible time.  Did Turbo deserve the death march that it was forced down, and could anything have been done to stop it?  Those are the questions that we shall be addressing next time.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch lost someone he could have saved.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Awards 2013: The Winners

We’ve been making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who the Failed Critics podcasters, writers, and our beloved readers/listeners think was naughty, nice and downright talented in 2013. If you want some pomp and circumstance (and can handle two hours of us drunkenly announcing the winners) then you can download the Review of 2013 Podcast otherwise, strap in tight because here we go.

Top 10 Films of 2013

BlueIsTheWarmestColour10. Blue is the Warmest Colour / Rush / The World’s End

A complicated three-way tie for tenth place in our poll, and it’s difficult to imagine three more different films to kick off with. Abdellatif Kerchiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour not only won the Palm d’Or in 2013, but for the first time in its history the prize was shared between the director and the stars of the film (Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos). A brilliant, yet simple film about first love, identity, and well, lesbian sex. Rush was Ron Howard’s return to form after the needless Angels & Demons and the inexplicable The Dilemma. Howard works best as a chronicler of recent history (see Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon) and the story and setting of James Hunt and Nikki Lauda’s tragic and inspiring rivalry was perfect fodder for the man most famous these days for his brilliant turn as the narrator of Arrested Development. Rounding off this trio is the last film in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’. The World’s End combines Shaun of the Dead’s invasion themes and b-movie sensibility with Hot Fuzz’s exploration of small town life and authoritarian control of the populace, but at its heart is a story about friendship, growing up, and growing apart. With some brilliant fight scenes.

The Place Beyond the Pines9. The Place Beyond the Pines

Possibly the sexiest film of the year, starring Failed Critics Podcast man-crush Ryan Gosling, dreamy Bradley Cooper, and the gorgeous Eva Mendes, but this film is so much more. Director Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious modern-day Greek tragedy is not only wonderful to look at (and we’re not just talking about the acting talent now), but a brilliant exercise in tone and storytelling. While the third act may have grated with many, not many films would have been brave enough to even try it in the first place.

iron-man-downey-jr8. Iron Man 3

The highest-grossing film of the year, and while Marvel Studios must realise they’ve essentially got a licence to print money it is great to see that they are still taking risks on directors with with plenty of baggage, but utterly unique takes on cinema. After resurrecting Joss Whedon’s career, Marvel handed their biggest single-character franchise to a man who had only directed one film before. Luckily that man was also the writer of some o the best action films of the 1980s and 1990s – Shane Black. Iron Man 3 suffered from a comic fan backlash over a number of decisions, but cinema audiences lapped up the self-referential humour.

Anne Hathaway Les Miserables7. Les Miserables

Years in the making, and not to be confused with the completely non-singing version starring Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman, Tom Hooper’s film was always going to bring in the crowds. What surprised many people though was how technically brilliant the film was, taking the almost unheard of step of recording the cast’s vocals onset, which in turn allowed for far more naturalistic performances, especially from Oscar winner Anne Hathaway.The only drawback was that Russel Crowe’s singing was so lifeless you wish he’s given it 30 odd foot of grunts.

The Way Way Back Sam Rockwell6. The Way, Way Back

Probably the biggest surprise entry on this year’s top ten, The Way, Way Back was an American indie gem of a comedy written and direct by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Oscar-winning co-writers of Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. One of the finest ensemble casts of the year, with great performances from the likes of Steve Carrell, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, Amenda Peet, and Liam James. Most impressive of all is Sam Rockwell, as the Peter Pan-esque manager of a scruffy water park where a shy 14-year-old boy spends his summer and discovers himself. Heart-warming, and very funny stuff.

Pacific Rim5. Pacific Rim

This film didn’t have the easiest ride from the critics (including one or two members of our own podcast), but its high showing in our awards just proves that there is still a huge audience out there for decent monster movies. So the script sucked and some performances were a little wooden? When giant ass robots fighting giant as alien sea creatures looks as good as this, who cares?

Django Unchained Waltz Foxx4. Django Unchained

Another film that divided critics and audience alike, Quentin Tarantino was at his most breathtaking, hillarious, and frustrating in this epic western starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Featuring a trademark QT soundtrack and visual flourishes loving recycled from the Speghetti Westerns of the 1960s, Django Unchained was a brutal and guiltily enjoyable romp through the old west and the height of slavery. Nobody does it quite like Quentin.

Alpha Papa Small3. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

The highest-placed British film of 2013, and a real rarity: a movie adaptation of a sitcom that delivered on the humour, while not sacrificing the feel of the original. Steve Coogan donned the string-back driving gloves once more to play one of the greatest comic creations since Basil Fawlty, and was in imperious form. From the opening credits featuring Partridge lip-syncing to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy to the pinpoint skewering of local radio, Alpha Paper was unashamedly British, and almost embarrassingly funny.

Gravity Sandra Bullock2. Gravity

The common link between our illustrious top ten of the year, and a similar list published by those hacks at Sight & Sound, is that this film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón finished in second place on both. Everyone who saw it agreed that it is a stunning technical and visual acheivement, with many (including us) going so far as to state that it’s one of the few positive uses of 3D they’ve seen in the cinema. However, without Sandra Bullock’s central performance grounding the film in some kind of recognisable humanity the film would have been a flashy, but ultimately soulless experience.

Cloud Atlas Weaving Old George1. Cloud Atlas

Ignored by the Academy, the cinema chains, and the ‘man in the street’ (barely making back its $100m+ budget), the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker’s co-directed historical drama/conspiracy thriller/escape caper/sci-fi blockbuster/fucking bonkers post-apocalyptic nightmare is exactly the kind of film that film bloggers love to write about, and they voted for it in their droves. Adapted from David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ novel. Cloud Atlas is an incredible experience, jumping between six very different, but intertwined stories, each featuring the same cast of actors. It swings from the sublime (Ben Whishaw as an aspiring composer, Tom Hanks as a manipulative doctor, Donna Bae as a replicant service worker) to the ridiculous (Hugh Grant as an angry Korean restaurant owner, Halle Berry as a white Jewish emigre, Hugo Weaving as The Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh) at regular intervals, and is certainly not the kind of film you can watch with one eye on your Twitter timeline.

For its sheer ambition, imagination, and chutzpah, we are very proud to call this our film of the year.

The best of the rest:

13. Side Effects
14. Stoker
15. Before Midnight
15. Wreck-it Ralph
17. Spring Breakers
18. Zero Dark Thirty
19. Captain Phillips
20. Despicable Me 2

Here are the rest of our awards, and you can hear a full discussion about these awards on the Failed Critics Podcast:

Best Performance by an Actor

1. Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips

2. Sam Rockwell for The Way, Way Back

=3. Daniel Bruhl for Rush, and James McAvoy for Filth

Best Performance by an Actress

1. Adèle Exarchopoulos

2. Sandra Bullock for Gravity

3. Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables

Best Documentary

1. Blackfish

2. The Act of Killing

3. The Great Hip-Hip Hoax

Best Film not in the English Language

1. Blue is the Warmest Colour (France)

2. The Thieves (South Korea)

3. The Act of Killing (Denmark/Indonesia)

Best Soundtrack

1. Cloud Atlas

2. Gravity

3. Les Miserables

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 22/02/13

gfflogoIt’s been a long, but brilliant week at the Glasgow Film Festival, and it was with great sadness that I embarked on my last day here. It started with the world première  of Staande! Debout!, a Belgian/Finish film about the after-effects of an autoworkers strike that paralysed Belgium in 1997. It’s a fictional account (but based on the very real experiences of the striking workers) of Felix, an old man who never got over the closure of the car plant where he worked. When his best friend dies, Felix decides to gather his surviving comrades to honour him. It’s an emotionally stark and desolate film, complimented by shots of a decaying industrial town in provincial Belgium. But also a powerful exploration of the human cost of capitalism, and a reminder that figures on a balance sheet are individual people, with their own hopes, fears, and varying levels of resilience.

The afternoon presented me with A Late Quartet, the fictional feature debut of Yaron Zilberman. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Catherine Keener, it tells the story of a string quartet’s struggles to stay together in the face of Parkinson’s disease, infidelity, and competitiveness. Sadly, it’s a rather boring and navel-gazing glimpse into the world of ‘rich white people’s problems’. Eastenders for the upper-middle-classes. Imogen Poots impresses as the daughter of Robert and Julliet Gelbart (Hoffman and Keener), and Christopher Walken is surprisingly not playing Christopher Walken for once. Overall though, the pace is flat, the characters are self-obsessed and uninteresting, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Before I head home to work on a film of my own (and who knows, maybe I’ll be back here next year in a slightly different capacity), I’m going to sign off with a few awards. I’m thinking of calling them the Glasgees…

Best Performance

There have been a number of great performances this week; Imogen Poots in The Look of Love; Ann Dowd in the otherwise pretty nasty Compliance, Soren Malling in A Hijacking; and Jack Black’s career-best turn in Bernie. A special mention should go to the cast of Cloud Atlas, who do an incredible job charging through multiple eras, races, and even genders. For me though, I have to give the award to Theo Green in Breakfast with Curtis. A non-professional actor, who puts in the kind of performance you might see in a Ken Loach film, but a happy one.

Best Documentary

Although Indie Game: The Movie and The Day that Lasted 21 Years were both excellent films, The Final Member is the one documentary that really caught my imagination. A incredibly story, told by fantastic characters, with a wonderful soundtrack. This will be a firm festival favourite in the coming months.

Best Foreign-Language Film

The Thieves came mighty close to winning this, but it just felt a little too Hollywood. A Highjacking however, is the type of film Hollywood would never make, and that’s a real shame. It’s an incredibly tense film about the hijacking of a Danish freighter by Somali pirates, and the increasingly fraught negotiations between Peter (CEO of the shipping company) and the hijacker’s translater and negotiator. A battle of wills and wits commences, and caught in the middle is the ship’s cook Mikkel. Brilliant.

Best Film

It has to be Cloud Atlas, with its bold, brave, and breathtaking take on David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ novel. You have to admire the film’s incredible ambition, and if you’re in the mood to forgive its sense of self-importance, and some ridiculous make-up jobs, you will be knocked over by a juggernaut of a movie. An absolute must-see.

And that’s it. I would like to thank everyone at Glasgow Film Festival (particularly Kirstin Innes, Laura Doherty, and Hannah Cosgrove), and of course our coverage sponsors Brewdog Glasgow. See you back here in 2014!

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival was sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars. Cheers for all the beer & burgers.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 20/02/13

The American Psycow at Brewdog Glasgow
The American Psycow at Brewdog Glasgow. I believe the youth vernacular is nom nom.

I seem to be following a pattern here. The more things I have to write about for this diary, the less time I have to get things down on paper, or whatever we call the electronic version of paper. Yesterday was a another great day in Glasgow, and the most fun I’ve had all week at the festival.

It started with a screening of The Thieves, one of the highest-grossing South Korean movies of all time, and my favourite film so far this week. It’s a very polished heist movie in the style of Ocean’s Eleven. Maybe even Pacific Ocean’s Eleven? Hello, is this thing on?

The film focuses on a Korean gang of thieves  led by a guy called Popeye, and including characters who go by the name of Chewing Gum and Peppsee. Nice. After a close call with the police following their latest crime (which cold-opens the film in the style of Mission Impossible, with just the right blend of humour and action), they decamp to China to steal a $30 million diamond from a casino. To complicate matters, the job is being put together by Macao Park, a notorious thief who double-crossed Popeye during a job five years earlier.

The film manages to keep momentum all the way through its 135 minute runtime, largely helped by a complex plot of twists and double/triple-crossings, and some of the finest action and stunt-work since John Woo’s early Hong Kong work. It also boasts brilliantly written female characters, the kind you almost never see in a Hollywood action movie. This is one of the few films that will be tempting me to break my new DVD embargo when I can finally get my hands on it.

I was joined at that screening by Dave McFarlane from Born Offside and Paul Fisher from The Write Club, and afterwards we retired to Brewdog Glasgow to record the bulk of our GFF Special Failed Critics Podcast. I’ve already raved enough about the beer and food at Brewdog, so today I’ve gone for the ‘picture says a thousand words’ approach with a photo of my beautiful burger.

The meeting was great fun, and my first experience of recording Failed Critics in the same room as the contributors. I just wish we could do it like this every week! We reviewed The Thieves (which we all loved), as well as Breakfast with Curtis, and the new documentary Men at Lunch. Our Triple Bill of favourite films set in Scotland contained some real surprises, and not a single soul picked Braveheart! You’ll be able to hear the fruits of our labour next week.

Finally, Dave and I made our way to the GFT for the festival’s Surprise Film. Weeks of rumour and speculation were over, and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was announced to volleys of beach balls filling the auditorium. I think GFF really deserve some credit for securing this hotly anticipated film, I just wish I had enjoyed it more. Or even a little.

Spring Breakers is about four college girls who dream of going to Spring Break, and end up robbing a diner to pay for their dream holiday. While there, they get into more trouble with the police and are bailed out by a drug deal slash rapper played by an unrecognisable James Franco (literally unrecognisable – I didn’t know it was him until I checked IMDB a few minutes ago). Things inevitably get worse, the film climaxes in dream-like chaos. It’s certainly a brave film, especially in the casting of teen stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. I just didn’t get it. The loud music, the nudity, and the violence all felt like a film made by and for teenagers. While not as loathsome as Project X, its constant bombardment of the audience with shocking images and crazed party goers still felt more aspirational than foreboding.

It didn’t help that at points the audience were laughing at the film, rather than with it, especially during a surreal section where Franco’s drug dealer starts playing Britney Spear’s ‘Everytime’ at his piano by the pool. A scene with him showing the girls around his apartment would have been a lot funnier if I hadn’t already seen it done better by Krazee-Eyez Killa in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Despite all this, it’s certainly a unique film, and unlike anything else I’ve seen this week.

Pick of the Day for Thursday 21st February – Whisky Galore!

One of the finest Ealing comedies, and a contender for my Scotland Triple Bill in yesterday’s podcast recording, Whisky Galore!’s tale of shipwrecks and treasure troves of whiskey would be a great pick in any circumstances, but the opportunity to see it on Glasgow’s The Tall Ship is surely too good an opportunity to turn down (especially as today’s screening of The Thieves is already sold out!).

Whiskey Galore! is showing at The Tall Ship at 8.20pm. Tickets HERE

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Stoker

stokerSo, Stoker. Hmmm. I’m just going to have to start writing this review, and hope I have something to say by the end of it. I know that doesn’t seem very professional, or even sensible, but it’s incredibly difficult to find things to say about a film that has so little to say itself.

Park Chan-wook‘s first foray into English-language film-making was one of my most anticipated films of Glasgow Film Festival, and indeed the whole of 2013. I couldn’t wait to see what the director of a masterpiece like Oldboy could do with what appeared to be a Hitchcockian psychological thriller, with a dash of American Gothic, and possibly even a hint of something more supernatural. The film tells the story of India Stoker (Mia Waskikowska); a girl who loses her father and best-friend (Dermot Mulroney) on her eighteenth birthday. Her father’s brother, Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) appears at the funeral, and moves in with India and her increasingly fragile mother (Nicole Kidman). Uncle Charlie clearly has dark secrets and hidden motives, and while India is suspicious of the man she never knew existed, she finds herself increasingly infatuated with him.

I am desperately looking for positives here. The direction is very stylish at times, and the use of sound is brilliant (India has a skill that allows her to hear things other people cannot, and the viewer is drawn into this aural soundscape in a very satisfying fashion). We are also ‘treated’ to some shocking set-piece scenes, with some images as indelibly burned into our retinas as the octopus scene from Oldboy. The problem is that the film amounts to little more than a few excellent scenes and disturbing images.

The story is threadbare, with not much in the way of action to propel the narrative. What little does happen feels forced and convenient, rather than believable. Characters just don’t do what they’re supposed to do. In some films this could be seen as a brave attempt at ‘anti-storytelling’, but in a film which clearly cites Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt as a major influence, this is unforgivable.

The central performances aren’t bad, it’s just that they don’t get the opportunity to show any great development. Matthew Goode does a reasonable ‘creepy uncle’, but the lack of depth to his character means there is no real twist; nothing to really catch us by surprise. The shocks are all telegraphed, and anyone who has seen one of the slew of ‘sensual psychological thrillers’ from the early 1990s (think The Hand the Rocks the Cradle or Malice) will have a pretty good idea how this plays out in the opening few minutes. The way in which the film plays with vampire mythology (from the title, to India’s attack on a student with a sharpened pencil/wooden stake), and then forgets about these set-ups is frustrating, and symptomatic of a script that feels like a first draft.

It’s not a bad film, it just isn’t good. And from a director who has delivered so much in the past, that is hugely disappointing.

Stoker is released in March

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

I Give It a Year

I-Give-It-A-YearThe good thing about going to see a film you know nothing about (seriously, I barely knew the title) is that you can go into it free from any preconceived opinions or reviews. The bad thing is that you might unwittingly stumble into a film featuring Minnie fucking Driver. My hatred of Minnie Drive is well documented.  You’ll be surprised to hear that she was not the worst thing about this movie.

I Give It a Year is a Working Title picture, by Borat writer Dan Mazer, clearly inspired by the Richard Curtis school of British Romantic Comedy. There’s this attractive couple who live in London and do London things like take cabs and eat cereal and play charades at Christmas. Then there’s an American female love interest. Only, instead of Notting Hill’s Julia Roberts, it’s Anna Faris. You know, that girl whose babies Chandler & Monica adopted at the end of Friends. Obscure. And yes, of course, Julia Roberts was in Friends once upon a time. But she’s also Julia Roberts.

One half of the oh so terribly London couple is Nat, played by Rose Byrne, who was just brilliant in Bridesmaids, but is a little blah here. She’s never particularly likeable or sympathetic, even though she clearly married a bit of a dolt. Nat’s ill-fated husband Josh is played by Rafe Spall, who is mainly famous for having a dad, and because he used to be fat. Spall’s entire performance is an admirable impression of Martin Freeman starring in, well, anything. If you close your eyes (not to fall asleep, just for some extended blinking) it could almost be him. And completing the foursome of star-crossed lovers is the American male love interest, played by floppy haired, cheesy grinned Australian Simon Baker.

The film charts the slow unravelling of Nat & Josh’s marriage, from the initial stylish wedding complete with a mass paper sky lantern release (unrealistic – they’re exactly the type to know about the environmental impact of such a display), to the one year anniversary surprise ‘celebrations’. Then there’s a scene at St Pancras which I guess is supposed to come off as cute and bumblingly British, but is just a bit weird. Luckily, all this is interspersed with simple scenes shot across a desk from Olivia Colman, showcasing the dark side of couples therapy. Colman is the kind of wonderful addition to this set up who can just make things work. The kind the director can tell to ‘have a phone argument with your husband about picking up the kids, make it last five minutes, make it the funniest thing in the film’, and she does.

Speaking of supporting cast, was Stephen Merchant owed a favour or something? His leery, innuendo cracking best mate to Josh is more than a little out of place here. Merchant plays it as a mixture of David Brent and everything else he & Gervais did together. Which is all well and good, and just part of the British ensemble set piece, like Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill or Kris Marshall in Love Actually, only a little more random. Like the whole film, really. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the worst 97 minutes of my life. I laughed out loud a few times, and there are plenty of good looking people to gawp at, whatever your predilection. Plus it’s always nice to see our fair capital city as romantic comedy intended: rain free, with ample parking and covered in fairy lights.

And so to Minnie Driver. Aside from my initial shock, anger and upset at realising she was in the film, I was actually grateful to her for uttering the line ‘I give it a year’ in the first five minutes, and reminding me of the name of the film. Moreover, she turned out to be pretty bloody excellent, as the scathing older sister, who is never without an eye roll, a witty disparaging put down, or a glass of wine. Plus she’s sleeping, albeit begrudgingly, with Jason Flemyng. (That’s Failed Critics Editor James’s good friend Jason Flemyng.) Minnie fucking Driver is the best thing about this film. Forsaking everything I previous thought true, when I grow up I want to be Minnie Driver’s character in I Give It a Year.

Oh, and Foxton’s may already be London’s leading estate agent. Nonetheless, they owe Rose Byrne an enormous debt of gratitude.

Hitchcock

Hitchcock Anthony HopkinsBased on the book telling the inside story of the making of Psycho, Hitchcock attempts to delve into the mind of the man that scared, and possibly scarred, generations of cinemagoers. The biopic is similar in tone to another film about a short period in the life of one of this country’s greatest talents; a genius that ultimately never quite achieved the universal acclaim that he craved. For Hitchcock, read The Damned United, and for Alfred Hitchcock, read Brian Clough.

Like The Damned United (the film, if not the book), Hitchcock’s strengths lie in the remarkable true story it’s based on, but suffers when trying to guess at the thoughts and motivations of a dead man. The director is to be admired in his attempts to understand what made Hitch tick, and the moment Alfred rhetorically asks his wife Alma “what if somebody made a really good horror film?” sends a shiver down the spine. Anthony Hopkins imbues his role as the Master of Suspense with both arrogance and a surprising vulnerability at times. His struggles to make the kind of film he wants to make are heartbreakingly portrayed, as an industry that made untold riches off of the back of his talent beg him not to make this “nasty little film”.

Sadly, the fascinating story of the making of one of the great works of art of the twentieth century soon takes a back seat to a plot straight out of a soap opera, as Hitchcock’s loyal and supportive wife finds herself drawn to a hack writer who shows her the attention that Alfred is withholding, as he becomes more and more obsessed with the young female stars of his film. Although Helen Mirren does sterling work with this role, the film really drags during the second act. That this narrative is largely fictitious makes its inclusion doubly disappointing.

Thankfully the film rediscovers itself in the third act, and the audience is rewarded with a strong and satisfying finale. Excellent support is provided by Scarlett Johansson in an uncanny portrayal of Janet Leigh, as well as a mature turn by Jessica Biel as Hitchcock’s former obsession Vera Miles. Film geeks will be overjoyed to see Ralph ‘Karate Kid’ Macchio make a cameo, not to mention Michael Winslow’s turn as Ed Gein; the real-life serial killer that the character of Norman Bates is based on. Danny Elfman’s score also provides some playful echoes of the famous Bernard Herrmann Psycho violins.

Hitchcock is a very enjoyable film, and it has a lot of things going for it. Sadly its ambition to be both realistic biopic and playful character study hold it back from being truly great. More Topaz than Vertigo.

Hitchcock is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th February.

Flight

flight-denzel-washington

In recent years, cinema audiences have been scared out of flying by terrorists in United 93, the spectre of death in Final Destination, and by motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane in a film I forget the name of. Then, just when you thought it was safe to go back on a plane, you get Denzel Washington piloting your flight. Not that nice, charming, good Denzel; but the naughty, irresponsible Denzel most recently seen in the underwhelming Safe House.

Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker; introduced to the audience in an opening five minutes which see him wake up in a hotel room with a naked woman surrounded by empty bottles, arguing with his ex-wife on the phone, and snorting a generous line of cocaine. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain descending into self-destruction. Once aboard his plane, Whitaker gets his head straight with a mixture of vodka and pure oxygen from his emergency mask, which is just as well since moments later the plane suffers a catastrophic failure resulting in a nosedive and imminent death to all on board. Whitaker then pulls off a manoeuvre only a drunk or desperate man would even attempt. Luckily Whip is both, and he manages to save many lives in the resulting spectacular crash landing. The film then concerns itself with the resulting investigation, with our ‘hero’ having to face up to personal demons and the legal ramifications of his actions on the day of the crash.

Washington has received an Oscar nomination for his performance, and I can only imagine it’s for his ability to be the most odious on-screen presence in a film that features Piers Morgan. The main problem with the film is that Whip is so unrepentant, arrogant, and downright unlikeable that long before the end I’d lost interest in whether or not he would gain redemption. The film is also flabby and over-long, with the pacing after the exciting opening 20 minutes making my time in the cinema feel like a long-haul flight without refreshments. Director Robert Zemeckis also seems to have turned up at the editing suite with only his iPod shuffle to choose the film’s soundtrack from. Need to introduce an edgy character? Use Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. Need to show the break-up of a relationship? Use Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Need to introduce another edgy character? Use Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones (again). This predictability and cliché permeates the entire film.

Aside from an entertaining John Goodman cameo, and the aforementioned plane crash, there’s very little to recommend about a film which collapses under the weight of its own melodrama and religious overtones. As studies of addiction go, it’s also very shallow compared to the likes of Steve McQueen’s Shame which was mysteriously overlooked at last year’s Oscars.