Tag Archives: 2015

36th Cambridge Film Festival

 

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Fans of our recent 36th Cambridge Film Festival episode of the Failed Critics Podcast will be pleased to see that contributor Andrew Alcock has written down some of his thoughts on the cluster of world cinema that he managed to get his hands on during the UK’s longest running film festival. Starting with…


Wonderland
Wonderland

Wonderland (2015) – Switzerland

Ten young Swiss directors explore how society would react if their country was plunged into crisis. The crisis arises in the form of an ominous storm cloud which appears over central Switzerland. It quickly spreads until it covers the whole country, stopping exactly at the borders. Experts predict apocalyptic disaster, insurance companies panic, vital services collapse, electricity cuts out, the government re-opens WW2 bunkers, social disorder ensues. Some people try to flee, some hide, others try to ignore it.

The premise is very good, the dark clouds can be used as a metaphor for so many things and the directors have mainly gone in different directions. Some themes are obvious; immigration, xenophobia, power, wealth, the EU. Some are so subtle that I have to admit that I didn’t even spot them. Three or four of the stories add nothing to the film other than increasing the run time.

Had this been four or five perspectives with the directors collaborating so that the stories overlapped / characters interacted it could’ve been superb. Unfortunately, these are independent short films spliced together by an editor leaving your interest yo-yoing. The good stuff is good – at times very good – but overall I was left with a sense of frustration at a missed opportunity.


On the Other Side
On the Other Side

On The Other Side (2016) – Croatia

Vesna lives a content life in Zagreb. She works as a nurse and shares her home with a daughter whose wedding she is helping to plan. Her son and his wife have a house close by and Vesna often pops over to babysit her grandson. Her quiet existence receives a jolt when her estranged husband calls her out of the blue.

[I must point out that my knowledge of Eastern European conflicts, in particular the Croatian War Of Independence, is limited to what I could gather during the film and a bit of research since. I may have misinterpreted some things but I’ll explain as best I can.]

About 20 years prior to this phone call war broke out and split up Vesna’s family. Her husband, Zarko, is Serbian and heads off to fight for the Yugoslav/Serb forces against the Croats, leaving his Croatian wife and children behind. Not only do they have to live in a country at war but they are the family of a Serb, the enemy. The family soon move to Zagreb to start a new life, the Croats win their independence, Zarko is tried at The Hague on war crimes and no more is heard from him. Having reacted to the first call with dismay and anger Vesna receives more calls from Zarko. Over time she discovers he is back in Serbia and as they talk it brings back memories, both good and bad. Her son wants nothing to do with his father. Her daughter is more understanding but feels the legacy of Zarko’s actions when her applications to get a job in the law profession are rejected when the potential employers discover her family history.

Ksenija Marinkovic does a fine job as Vesna, portraying a woman who has horrific memories and is still seeing the effects of her husband’s choices on her children today but has reconnected with the man she loved. There’s a twist near the end of the film which I liked but really wanted more details of. I know what happened, I know who did what but I don’t know why. I’m not sure if it wasn’t explained or if I just didn’t pick up on it. That confusing end took the gloss of what was a very interesting and well-made film.


alba-cdt-stills-43-postalAlba (2016) – Ecuador

11-year-old Alba lives a very quiet life. Her mother has been unwell for some time. Almost entirely bed-ridden, a nurse comes in to wash her and change her clothes and Alba is able to help her to the bathroom and back to bed. Due to this Alba spends her time at home playing silently, allowing her mother to rest. This quietness continues at school where Alba is very reserved. She will sit with the other girls but rarely join in. Always reticent to speak. One night her mother takes a turn for the worse and is taken to hospital for ongoing treatment. This results in Alba being taken to stay with her dad, a man she has not seen since she was three. Her dad is used to a life of solitude, a man of few words. He does what he can to make her feel welcome but finds it hard talking to a child he barely knows.

There are long mute periods between the two, neither knowing what to say, any conversation they do manage consisting of a short question and reply. Alba switches school and her shyness again holds her back until she is approached by an older girl, Eva. They chat, Alba still not saying much, and Eva invites her to a party. Hearing of this the other girls at school try harder to engage with Alba whilst she tries to overcome her withdrawn nature.

The onset of puberty, awkwardness at living with her dad, her first kiss, truth or dare, the party and her mother’s illness all affect her as we see her slowly mature, becoming more confident, wrestling with her conscience whilst trying to be accepted. There’s a really nice scene where Alba and her dad go to the beach. Although they still don’t communicate verbally you can see they have accepted each other and enjoy their time together. Macarena Arias plays Alba wonderfully, displaying the difference between the introverted young girl at the beginning and the more self-assured character she becomes. I definitely recommend you give this a watch when it becomes available on whichever completely legal format you use for film viewing.


tel_0913790_s_01_xx_big_1Between Sea And Land (2016) – Colombia

Over-the-top melodrama. I could leave the review at that point and I think most readers would know whether they want to see this film or not. Many people enjoy this type of thing, I am not one of them. It follows the ‘person with debilitating illness tries to achieve goal with help of family and friends’ formula.

In this film:

Person = Alberto, a man in his twenties
Illness = a form of muscular dystrophy
Goal = experience the sea

To explain how disengaged I was from this film I will share a thought process I had upon seeing a shot which started above Alberto’s shack and pulled back directly upwards until there was a Google Maps-style shot: “I wonder how they got that shot. Perhaps a drone? Would a drone be able to carry a good enough camera to get such clarity? Might’ve had a built-in camera. Either way that’d be pricey. How much would the budget for a film like this be? Is the Colombian film industry particularly wealthy? Maybe it wasn’t a drone. Perhaps a crane? It would need to be a massive crane to pull back that high up and not have it in shot. Maybe they lowered something down and reversed the shot. No, that wouldn’t work, the waves would be going away from the shore…”


press__oneofus_victor_softgun-tif_One Of Us (2015) – Austria

A huge supermarket is the only thing of note in the hometown of 14-year-old Julian. So this is where he congregates with his mates. Sometimes going inside the shop, annoying the stuck-up manager. Often hanging about on the outskirts of the large compound, smoking, vandalising, chatting, messing about, doing whatever it takes to pass the time in their dead town. Michael, a kid a little older than Julian, is starting his career working in the supermarket. Despite not being overly enthused he does what he can to impress, performing his duties and trying to ignore the requests of local wannabe gangster, Sedler, to sneak things out. 16-year-old Marko is freshly out of prison, his first port of call upon his return to town is the supermarket. A reunion with his old mate Sedler soon follows as well as a meeting with Julian. As friendships grow, Julian tries harder to impress. During a night of smoking and drinking the decision to break in to the supermarket ends in tragedy.

I know I’ve not sold the film very well with that synopsis, it’s a tricky one to get across. At it’s heart is a very simple story of youngsters craving adventure, thrills and acceptance. Doing whatever they can to alleviate the monotony of life. The use of the supermarket is superb. Not only is it used symbolically, the most mundane of places seen as the beacon of excitement, but it is utilised visually throughout.

The straight lines of the regimented aisles, the gaudy, unnatural colours of the packaging all in blocks creating a rainbow effect, the bright artificial lighting. It all adds to create a surreal environment in contrast to the dull reality of the outside world. This is another I recommend you catch if you ever get the chance.

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The Best Picture Winners That Never Were – Part 2 (1991 – 2015)

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“Now are you a rusher? Or are you a dragger?”

Yup, the Oscars are almost here. The annual celebration of people doing their job very well when they’re paid hundreds of thousands of times more than you and me do for our nine-to-fives. Basically, it’s Hollywood’s Employee of the Month award with an almost ironclad guarantee that winners will go on to do something bloody awful afterwards – I’m looking at you, Halle Berry and I’m DEFINITELY not looking at Swordfish.

So what do you say? Shall we continue my list of missed opportunities and wrong decisions? I promise to be a little less controversial than I was in the first part and hopefully, hopefully, you’ll agree with some of my choices. Only one way to find out.


1994 – Pulp Fiction

The first of a 1994 double bill that lost out to the bloody terrible Forrest Gump. Yeah, I know, I’ve probably lost you already, but hear me out. My dislike for Tom Hanks aside, I simply don’t like Gump and his stupid face. The whole film just bugs me, and the fact that it has beaten a bonafide classic like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is just unforgivable.

The intertwined stories of gangsters, everyday criminals and Joe average that blurs the lines between good guys and bad is one of the most amazing films dedicated to celluloid. To spend the two and a half hour running-time with these characters is to spend a tenth of your day with some of the most brilliantly written characters in the history of film.

Between this, and the next film in my list, there’s no way on God’s green earth that anyone, ANYONE, can tell me that they think the escapades of Mr. Gump deserves that Oscar.


1994 – The Shawshank Redemption

Yeah, believe it or not, the Forrest Chump beat this to the Oscar too. Based on a Stephen King short story and current, almost permanent, number one on the IMDB top 250 (Pulp Fiction is 5, while Hanks’ statue thief sits at 13), Shawshank is regarded by many as the greatest film is ever made.

Frank Darabont makes his feature film debut and gets his name known around the world with what is easily the best prison drama put to film. Featuring Tim Robbins and an Oscar nominated performance from Morgan Freeman as a pair of unlikely friends working through years behind bars with each other. With escape constantly on the mind of Robbins’ innocent Andy Dufresne and Freeman’s “Red” living with the desire to just play out his time in peace and quiet; Shawshank is maybe the only film that could beat Tarantino’s Classic to the finishing line if quality of film was actually the standard used for handing out these awards.


1997 – Good Will Hunting

Genuinely, I think this is a no-brainer. Forget the star power of writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting is a truly original film. The story of Damon’s Will Hunting who, with the help and guidance from his court appointed psychologist (Robin Williams) learns to find his identity in a world where he can solve almost any problem, but can’t seem to shift his own personal demons.

Compare that to the film that won the Oscar that year? A film about a giant sinking boat. And while Titanic may be a visually impressive film to watch, the fact that it’s a love story, based on an unsinkable boat that sank, where the happy ever after was one of the lovers freezing to death in the water while the other clung to a lump of wood to survive? No thanks. Utter guff. And again, no staying power. All these years later, Titanic looks like a CGI laden mess, Good Will Hunting can still draw you in with its fantastic drama.


2011 – Moneyball

Definitely more of a personal opinion for this one than a flat out obvious mistake on the Academy’s part. Based on Michael Lewis’ book, The art of winning an unfair game, this Brad Pitt starring drama lost out to The Artist. Now, I enjoyed The Artist; it was a well made film that, considering what it was, kept me riveted the entire time it was on. But in my opinion, it was a flash in the pan and on second viewing isn’t half as good.

Moneyball earned a handful of nomination in 2011, including acting nods for its star and, much to everyone’s surprise, Jonah Hill. The film takes the mundane behind the scenes stuff of pre-season baseball and makes it a thrilling, interesting, drama that has you hooked early on and doesn’t let go. Its author hits his third adaptation to get a nomination for best film this year with The Big Short (the frankly amazing The Blind Side as also nominated in 2009 but lost, quite rightly, to The Hurt Locker) and honestly, this should have been his first win.


2015 – Whiplash

Now, I know I’m gonna get shit for is one, and that’s ok. There was absolutely nothing wrong with last year’s winner, the brilliant Birdman was deserving of its statue. And even when watching it again, it’s just as good; well acted, brilliantly directed and with a very cool improvised jazz score I would gladly have The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance in my collection.

But it didn’t do one thing that Whiplash did. Not only did the film completely blow me away, but the story of the young jazz drummer going up against his abusive band leader and trying to come out on top left me walking out of the cinema in a state that I can only describe as shell shocked. It’s a state I’ve been in several times after watching this amazing spectacle of a film. Every rewatch leaves me exhausted and at the same time begging for more. The only other film to do that recently is 2016 best pic nominee Mad Max: Fury Road. And only time will tell us if whatever beats it has the staying power that both of these films have.


That’s me done. For this year at least. What did you think? Do you agree with my choices? Think I’m a complete imbecile for hating Titanic and Forrest Gump? Do feel free to let me know. There’s nothing I like more than a good argument over great films!

Phil Sharman’s Worst & Best of 2015

Before the results of the Failed Critics Awards are published here in writing, Phil Sharman (one of our contributors to the end of year podcast) has created this beautiful document, highlighting which films he enjoyed and not-so-enjoyed last year.

(Seriously, it’s pretty darn gorgeous and combines the use of spreadsheets and fantastic writing to read like something right out of the middle of a popular newspaper pull-out (that’s meant as a compliment). What’s not to like?!)

Having seen exactly 64 films released in 2015, Phil decided to run his very own knockout tournament to find out what were his best – and, just as importantly, his worst – films of the entire past 12 months. But I will let him explain his own rationale in the finished article below…

Click the image to open the full PDF file
Click the image to open the full PDF file

You can find all of Phil’s appearances on the Failed Critics Podcast throughout 2015 here, including reviews of Transporter: Refueled, Ted 2, Crimson Peak, Beasts of No Nation, and of course the end of year awards show.

Failed Critics Podcast in 2015 Recap

As 2015 draws to a close, let’s take a look back over some of the best podcasts we’ve produced over the past 12 months.


JANUARY – The Pod In The Machine

ex machinaIn tandem with the release of Ex Machina, Matt Lambourne joined Steve and I for a special ‘Artificial Intelligence’ themed episode. On top of reviewing Alex Garland’s movie (which would go on to be voted the best British film of 2015 in our Failed Critics Awards this past month) we each chose our favourite movies featuring A.I. in honour of both this and the upcoming releases of Big Hero 6 and Chappie.


 

FEBRUARY – Your Unconventional Desire

50 shadesAs Fifty Shades of Grey hit the big screen in February, we invited Matt Lambourne and (for the first time ever) Paul Field onto the podcast to review the not-so-erotic erotic-thriller. It was almost left up to Paul to review the movie on his own as both Steve and I welched and Matt did his best to ruin Valentine’s Day. The podcast also featured reviews of two other new releases, with Will Smith’s con-film Focus and the sci-fi indie movie Predestination.


 

MARCH – Don’t Laugh, We’re Being Cool

?????????????????Quickly becoming one of our favourite guests on the show within just three months, Andrew Brooker was invited back onto the podcast again to discuss Neill Blomkamp’s latest action thriller, Chappie. Also joining us that week was Jack Stewart – then of Not This Again fame, but now one part of the Wikishuffle trio. It’s fair to say that there were some mixed opinions about this new release!


 

APRIL – Episode 150 and as shambolic as ever

New LogoIf you’re actually a fan of the Failed Critics Podcast, then April 2015 was quite the month for you as we put out 15 individual episodes, including a five-hour long triple-triple bill podcast with Matt Lambourne, Andrew Brooker and Paul Field, to celebrate reaching a pretty incredible milestone of 150 episodes. It was also the episode where we debuted our new logo and theme tune, which was a remix of the old tune by professional musician James Yuill.


 

MAY – Mad Critics Fury Podcast

mad max 4Andrew Brooker was back on the podcast as we reviewed the film that would go on to win first place in our Top 10 of 2015 list at the awards, Mad Max: Fury Road. From the way Brooker and Jackson Tyler reacted to it back then, it’s hardly surprising it had such a lasting impact. This was also the podcast that saw us change our opening quiz format for the first time to some degree of success, as I made up a few Albert Pyun film descriptions.


 

JUNE – Jurassic World & Christopher Lee

Jurassic-World-1With the legendary Sir Christopher Lee passing away, it seemed somewhat fitting that we had our resident horror expert on the podcast that week in Mike Shawcross. We paid tribute to the iconic film star, as well as reviewing the biggest film of the year, Jurassic World.


 

JULY – Small, Bald, Jaundiced Critics

illuminationIn our first podcast of the second half of 2015, Callum Petch joined us to review one of the highest grossing movies of the year, Minions. We also had some-time guest writer Nick Lay join us for review of yet more low-budget indie movies. We also ranted once again about another Spider-Man reboot news.


 

AUGUST – Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer

dyerAfter much persuading by Paul Field, the ‘slice’, he convinced us to dedicate and entire episode to the work of British actor Danny Dyer … and it turned out to be our most downloaded podcast of the entire year! A lot of work went into it, with Paul watching every Dyer film in existence. We even got professional stand-up comedian James Mullinger to appear on the show, as well as an interview with film producer Jonathan Sothcott, who co-authored the book The Films of Danny Dyer with Mullinger.


 

SEPTEMBER – Legend, The Visit and Award Winning Comedy

legendWith Steve on a week’s break, Jack Stewart was back on the podcast – but this time in the host’s chair. Phil Sharman (also from Wikishuffle) appeared on this episode, fresh after the pair of them won Best Comedy Podcast at the UK Podcaster Awards. Andrew Brooker also helped join in the collective sigh of disappointment at Legend, starring Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy.


 

OCTOBER – In SPECTRE, It’s Columbo

spectre1208141280jpg-398894_1280wInadvertently spawning a new catchphrase, my review of a Columbo TV movie (that Steve forced me to watch) led to ‘it’s Columbo’ causing a few chuckles amongst our guests. Both Tony Black (of Pick A Flick and The X-Cast fame) and Brian Plank helped us to review the latest James Bond film and somewhat underwhelming SPECTRE.


 

NOVEMBER – Ronaldo, World Cinema and Listener Questions

NocturnaIn a re-hash of an idea we tried out in 2014, we invited listeners to send questions in to us and our guests for the episode (and world cinema aficionados) Liam and Andrew Alcock. We also discussed the new Cristiano Ronaldo documentary that had just been released, as well as lesser known international movies Nocturna, Green Butchers and Train of Life (yeah, I hadn’t heard of them either!)


 

DECEMBER – Winterval Special 2015

gremlinsEvery October, we have a Halloween special podcast. In April, we celebrate the “birthday” for Failed Critics. In December, of course we always have a Christmas special episode. It was the last of the year that both Steve and I were on (as he missed the end of year awards and I was booted off the Star Wars: The Force Awakens episode) so why not listen to both of us (plus Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank) spread some Christmas cheer!


 

Some others not mentioned above:

Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights: Fred’s Pocket – Although I didn’t appear on this podcast, I am its Producer and Editor! Paul Field and James Mullinger started off their new podcast series with a look at their favourite Canadian films and interview WolfCop director Lowell Dean.

Avengers Minisodes and Age of Ultron – Gerry McAuley, Brian Plank, Leighton, Callum Petch, Tony Black, Carole Petts, Andrew Brooker, Matt Lambourne and Mike Shawcross each joined us for ten individual 15-20minute long “minisodes”, re-evaluating the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to and then including Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast and The Failed Black Hole Word of Friction Wikishuffle Critics – After we hosted the first ever quiz-only edition of the Failed Critics Podcast – dubbed a ‘Quizcast’ – featuring both Black Hole Cinema and Wikishuffle, back in April, it fell to Tony Black to host the second rendition which also added Word of Nerd and Fan Friction to the mix.

TV Specials: 2.5, (S3, Ep1) and (S3, Ep2) – In 2016 we’ll be hosting our first Netflix Original podcast, but earlier this year we hosted three TV specials, including episode 2.5 with Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, which reviewed Entourage: The Movie, and then again with episode 3 split into two parts. James Diamond (founder of Failed Critics) and Matt Latham (creator of The Bottle Episode) joined us in part 1 for a chat about the Emmy’s and in part 2 to talk more generally about our favourite TV shows.

The Blair Witch Project (Commentary) – Less of an actual film commentary and more like a watch-along (as I tried to explain on my blog), Steve, Matt, Brooker and I all watched cult 90’s found-footage phenomenon The Blair Witch Project and released our running dialogue as an episode people could either listen to whilst watching the film themselves, or just as a stand alone podcast. We’ll be trying it again at some point in the new year. If there’s any suggestions as to what we should watch next, leave a comment in the box below!


 

2016 is already shaping up to be another successful year for us. The first three months of podcasts have been scheduled and we’ve got two Corridor of Praise episodes lined up, our usual Oscars special, a world cinema triple bill, episode number 200 (!!) and of course all of the big releases including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Hateful Eight, Creed and loads of others too.

Thanks to everyone who has downloaded or listened to any of our podcasts over the past 12 months. We’re ending the year on a high, having once again made it onto the iTunes Film Fanatics list on their podcasts page, sandwiched between Mark Kermode and the Barbican. You could help make it an even better end to the year by visiting our iTunes page and leaving us a review and/or a rating: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/failed-critics-film-podcast/id522507819?mt=2

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed listening to these podcasts almost as much as I’ve enjoyed making them and you will continue to listen to us throughout the next 12 months too.

Happy New Year all and see you in 2016!

Rocky: A Retrospective – Part One

Rocky-and-Apollo-02

“When we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man, the edge! And now you gotta get it back.”

As I write this, we are a few weeks away from the UK release of Creed, the latest film in the Rocky saga. Having already been released to critical acclaim in the United States, I expect nothing but an amazing drama that has me punching along with its stars and wanting to scream at the screen the entire time I’m in the theatre.

Much as I did with Mad Max back in May, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have myself a little Rocky refresher course before release and share it with you guys.

It’s been a long time since I watched the Rocky films; I’m certain I did a quick run through back when Rocky Balboa, the series’ comeback sequel, was released. “That wasn’t that long ago, right?” I thought to myself. Wrong. It was in 2006 that Stallone’s comeback film rightleft-hooked us to the canvas. Two years before Rambo’s comeback; four years before he assembled The Expendables for the first time and – by the time we get Creed on UK shores – ten years before the Italian Stallion took up the Mickey Goldmill role of trainer to long time opponent/friend Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis Johnson – a pornstar name if ever I heard one.

Forty years since we first cheered for Rocky Balboa. Forty years of ups and downs for our hero and forty years of films that don’t always live up to their heritage, but do try very hard. The original classic film and five sequels between 1976 and now; won’t you join me on my journey through the life and times of Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia’s number one son?


Rocky (1976)
Budget – $1,100,000
Box Office – $225,000,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 93%

The story of a down and out debt collector who makes a few bucks on the side boxing in clubs has become the stuff of legend. A fighter who has never lived up to his potential, almost reviled by the owner of the gym he works out in and errand boy to a petty loanshark; Rocky Balboa inexplicably gets a chance to prove himself to everyone as Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed gives the unknown fighter a shot as his World Championship when the original contender for the belt has to drop out.

Determined to grab at this opportunity with both hands, Balboa trains harder than he has ever trained before to prove to himself, his new girlfriend Adrian, and everyone watching that he deserves the shot he’s been given. Trained by gym owner Mickey, a burnt out boxer who’s happy to berate Rocky for being a bum – a recurring theme in these films, until I watched these again I never knew the insult “bum” was either used that often or really that offensive – Rocky captures the heart of boxing fans across America as he steps into the ring with he champ to fight for his self respect as much as the belt.

Ending with a tense fight between the pair, Balboa fighting his heart out to prove himself and Creed fighting a guy with more spirit than he could have imagined, Rocky’s eventual split decision loss after fifteen rounds of hard hitting action leaves the world believing that Rocky won the fight, whether or not he came out with the title.

Rocky is a rags-to-riches American Dream story as poignant as any made before it or since. Written by Sylvester Stallone and made on a shoestring budget, Rocky’s journey from unknown to worldwide sensation was mirrored by its star who, after the film made two hundred times its budget back at the box office, went from nobody to household name overnight. Winning three Oscars for best film, director (for John G. Avildsen) and editing, also earning Stallone nominations for his writing and acting, there can be no doubting the pedigree of the series when it starts this well.

And let us not forget the two most memorable parts of Rocky. First, that most quoted and parodied call from the down and dirty bruiser after his loss, “ADRIAAAAAAAN”, and second the most famous training montage music in the history of film, that montage that made Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” one of the most recognisable songs in movie soundtrack history.


Rocky II (1979)
Budget – $7,000,000
Box Office – $200,100,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 73%

There was no way a film as profitable as Rocky wasn’t going to get a sequel. We only had to wait a couple of years until Sylvester Stallone not only returned to writing duties, but took the spot behind the camera to direct as well.

Minutes after his defeat at the hands of the champion, Rocky finds himself face to face with Apollo Creed in the halls of the hospital they have both been carted off to. Angry that his win wasn’t decisive, Creed immediately goes back on his word, calling out our hero for a rematch that Rocky refuses. Opting instead to retire, recover from his bout and become the family man he wants to be with Adrian. But Creed won’t accept that, spurned on by hate mail and a bruised ego, he sacrifices the high ground and bullies Rocky into a return fight.

But Balboa’s heart simply ain’t in it. But the promise of a growing family means that going back to his old ways of earning money simply isn’t going to cut it. However, training for his bout puts more strain on his family than financial troubles ever would. When the stress takes its toll on a heavily pregnant Adrian, things look dire for the Balboa family as their son is born a month premature and complications leave Adrian in a coma.

Spurred on by the birth of his son and his wife waking up with a new found love for Rocky’s chosen career, the Stallion gets back to training harder and working to get faster and break not only some bad habits, but his lifelong fighting stance. Training orthodox instead of his natural southpaw – something that isn’t mentioned again across the next few films, I’m guessing it was a production choice to make it easier for a right-handed star to train and fight convincingly – to fool his opponent and get an early advantage over an angry Creed determined to knock out Rocky in the first couple of rounds.

Once again he’s seen running through the streets of Philadelphia to get his stamina up, but this time joined by a few hundred kids for his stroll through the community that looks up to him so much. In a repeat of the original’s montage, his run ends at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the same “Gonna Fly Now” soundtrack, but this time joined by a school full of children clearly bunking off in the middle of the day!

Fight night! Win, lose or draw Balboa has the moral victory over the champion, but this time Rocky wants to win decisively. Another tense fifteen rounder that has me on the edge of my seat the entire time is the order of this sequel. This time, a last second knock out of the champion gets Rocky the belt, Adrian the win she made her husband promise and us out of our seats cheering.

No Oscar nominations for Rocky II, but as the second of a one-two punch after the first, an excellent, beautifully filmed drama that gets the palms sweating and the heart pounding.


Rocky III (1982)
Budget – $17,000,000
Box Office – $122,800,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 63%

Two films grossing over 200 million dollars? A third film was absolutely on the cards. Although, in a post Raging Bull world, Stallone’s writing and direction had to come up big to make a statement and, depending on who you talk to, it either blew those expectations away, or failed miserably to meet them. Me? I kind of sit somewhere in the middle.

After taking Creed’s title from him, Rocky rolls through every contender put in front of him for the next couple of years. Content to enjoy his celebrity life and retire an undefeated champion, Balboa is called out and bullied into a title defence by the number one contender, a dangerous man named James Lang, nicknamed “Clubber”. Played by a relatively unknown Mr. T (just before his A-Team days), Clubber hands Rocky his most vicious and calculated beating, taking his title and embarrassing our hero in front of his home town.

Beaten, broken and dealing with the loss of his friend and trainer Mickey, Rocky wants a shot to get his title back but lacks the tools to get the job done. Enter Apollo Creed. Rocky’s long-time rival offers to train him, to get him fighting fit and to teach him to be a boxer; not just the bruiser that once won him the championship. His only fee? Rocky owes him a favour once it’s all over.

Flying out to California and going back to Creed’s original gym, Apollo and Rocky set about preparing the former champion for his bout against the monstrous Clubber. New fitness regimes, new ways to train and new techniques has Balboa as well prepared as he is going to be to face the man that took his title.

In his rematch, Rocky utilises all he’s learned from Apollo and outfights Lang, forcing the bigger, stronger man to tire himself out early on and sets him up for a nice, early victory; knocking out Clubber Lang in the third round and winning back his title.

And Creed’s favour? A third match between the pair, no crowds, no cameras, the decisive rubber match to see which of the pair is the greatest.

In my opinion, Rocky III doesn’t live up to the previous instalments. It was the beginning of a drop in quality for the series that was only slight at this point. Besides cementing Mr. T’s “I pity the fool” catchphrase into the annals of film history and introducing the world to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” – a song that became so famous that just me mentioning it back there will have it stuck in your head for a bit – this third entry to this franchise should have been the end of it.

Sadly, it wasn’t. More on that a little later on…

Failed Critics Podcast: End of Year Awards 2015

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Votes have been counted, booze has been consumed and a resulting two hour long podcast has been produced, examining each of the winners (and some of the losers) in this year’s Failed Critics Awards.

With Steve Norman absent, it’s up to Matt Lambourne to step in and host our final podcast of the year as Owen Hughes runs through who has won what in all eight of the different categories that our listeners have submitted votes in. Accompanying them both are special guests Callum Petch and Phil Sharman, who duke it out in the opening quiz, before laughing/lamenting the choices for:

Best soundtrack of 2015

Best documentary

Best film not in the English language

Best British film

Best male performance

Best female performance

Worst film of 2015

and of course the definitive Top 10 films of the year.

Thank you to everybody who spared 5 minutes to send in your picks for each of the above – and thanks to all of you who have downloaded our podcast over the past 12 months. You’ve made this year the most successful in our relatively short history and without you, it’d just be Steve and I talking over Skype each week to an invisible audience. Which, quite frankly, would be a bit weird. So thanks for sparing us that indignity, at least!

We’ll be back again the first week of January to review Joy, The Danish Girl and no doubt some other stuff too.

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What I won’t be voting for in 2015

As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2015, I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before midnight tonight.

Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6, Transporter Refueled, Lost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.


Foxcatcher

steve_carell_foxcatcher1Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.


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Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age-of-Ultron-0003Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.


Southpaw

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I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.


SPECTRE

spectre-daniel-craigThis might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.

In the Heart of the Sea

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“The tragedy of the Essex is the story of men. And a Demon.”

It’s been a long year; a year that seems to have been filled with more guff films than decent ones. Of course, you may disagree; you may not enjoy the same things I do and I may think what you like is complete toilet. The subjective nature of films aside, I think In the Heart of the Sea may be the film that finally killed my 2015. And I was hoping to end it on a high note, too.

Inspired by the true story that inspired Moby Dick – we’ll get to THAT in a bit – In the Heart of the Sea sees Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), an author looking for inspiration for his next book, tracking down and persuading Brendon Gleeson’s Thomas Nickerson; a deckhand and last surviving member of the crew of the doomed whaling ship, The Essex; to tell the story of the ship, its crew and their encounters with the demon that tried to send them all to the bottom of the ocean.

Spinning Melville (and us) a yarn about his time as a teenager upon the Essex at the height of the lucrative whale oil trade of the early 1800’s, Thomas tells us the tale of a ship, captained by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) a man who shouldn’t be captain and has instead been born into the position; with a first mate (Chris Hemsworth) who really should have got the job but has been nudged back because his surname isn’t Pollard. This man, Owen Chase, is the perfect man to run a ship like this, on a mission like this, but has instead been shunned because of his lineage and now we have a ship with the two people in charge already at odds with each other. This doesn’t bode well for our crew that includes the adolescent Nickerson (Tom Holland) and a sailor trying desperately to stay sober (Cillian Murphy).

As the weeks go on and the whale sightings dwindle, the crew catch word of a part of the ocean far from any known fishing area where the sea is brimming with the giant mammals to hunt. With promises of enough oil to fill their hold twice over, the crew set to these uncharted waters with hopes of a fortune ahead. The problem is, almost as quickly as they find what they are looking for, something finds them; a monstrous whale that dwarfed all those around it takes umbrage at the sailors’ presence there and proceeds to obliterate the whaling boats, the sailors, and eventually the Essex using nothing but its size and strength. The whale – let’s call him Moby – then taunts the survivors for an hour and a half as they Jerry-rig a life raft and try to float home via desert islands, cannibalism and intense beard growth.

In the Heart of the Sea may be the most disappointing Ron Howard film that I’ve seen to date. It acts as if it has something to say but doesn’t even come close to telling me anything of note. The film is about as plain, and by the numbers, as it could possibly be, substituting characterisation for celebrity – hoping that casting Thor will be enough to carry the film – and storytelling for nice special effects. Sadly, neither do their required job and about the only thing I got from my trip to the flicks to see this was a comfy seat for two hours and an excuse to eat popcorn. In truth, the only reason I stayed until the end of the film was the fact that I had already bought my popcorn and didn’t want to leave it, or my Starbucks, behind.

Make no mistake, it’s a very pretty film. The CGI looks great, the boat and its movement on the water look amazing and I’d even go so far to say that a lot of the scenes, especially the underwater ones, look spectacular in 3D. But this doesn’t save the film from being a dull, lifeless two hours where the only thing it serves to tell us is that both Chris Hemsworth and Brendon Gleeson can’t do a Boston accent very well and that humongous fish are not to be trifled with when all you have is a rowing boat and a large cocktail stick to stab it with! Much has been told of Hemsworth’s transition from muscle man to starving survivor. Unfortunately, I have seen Christian Bale do it three times now and I find myself unimpressed when you put yourself through that for a lacklustre film.

Finally, I promised I’d bring this up, but I am really getting a little sick of this “inspired by true events” shit. Every other film is “inspired” by some true story or another and In the Heart of the Sea is the most heinous of these films. The trailer tells us “inspired by the true story, that inspired the legend, Moby Dick”. Forgetting for a second that a trailer filled with huge fuck-off whales knocking seven shades of shit out of boats didn’t need to tell me it was Moby Dick; but this whole “Inspired by…” shit just screams “I wanted to tell this story, but couldn’t make it interesting enough without changing it”. But to do that to Moby Dick? That, Mr Howard, is arrogance of the highest order and is absolutely inexcusable from a veteran director. Shame on you.

Best Films on TV: Christmas to New Year 2015

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Every 23rd December, for the past three years, we have released our pick of the films being shown on freeview TV over the Christmas schedule. Last year’s choices were made by Paul Field, but returning to this Failed Critics Christmas tradition is site editor Owen Hughes. It practically guarantees less Carry On movies and probably more big budget blockbusters…

A couple of years ago, we were regularly posting lists of films that we would recommend for the week ahead. Oh, how times have changed. It seems these days that with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, we’re less bothered about waiting for films to be shown on TV and instead watching whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is great! Except that it’s reduced these articles to annual posts.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a look through the TV schedule to see what tat is being pushed on us this year and tried to sift out some of the dross (although Steve will be pleased to know that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is being shown on Christmas day at 11am) and chosen five decent-to-good movies each day in the run up to 2016.

Christmas Eve –

Finishing work early tomorrow? Want something to just stick on when you walk through the door to get you in a Christmassy mood? Well, stick Channel 4 on at 2.15pm and get straight into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Alternatively, if you’re sick of that bloody film already, try out the Robert Zemeckis animated A Christmas Carol over on BBC One at 2.20pm (it’s the version that I talked about on our Winterval Podcast this week). If you prefer your Scrooge’s to be real rather than cartoony, then stay up wrapping last minute presents until half past midnight for the 1951 version on Channel 5 starring Alastair Sim as the miserly grump. For those of us who relate a bit too much to Ebenezer, and can’t be arsed with this Christmas nonsense – bah humbug – then watch Karl Urban as the Mega-City One Judge, jury and executioner in Dredd on Film4 at 11.25pm or switch over to BBC Two five minutes later for one of Hitchcock’s best with Dial M For Murder.

Christmas Day –

We’ve had two of the most well known adaptations of Dickens’ novel, so why not start the afternoon with Channel 4 and give the other two a watch on Christmas day itself? Starting at 1.45pm with The Muppet Christmas Carol, they swiftly follow it up at 3.45pm with Bill Murray doing his thing in Scrooged. Later that evening, BBC Three have a double bill of animated movies that are safe to watch with granny, the kids, your other half or on your todd with Toy Story at 7.30pm and How To Train Your Dragon straight after it at 8.45pm. For something not at all schmalzy, sentimental or saccharine, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until much, much later in the evening as the Coen Brothers change the mood entirely at 00.05am on ITV4 with the hilarious 90’s comedy The Big Lebowski. Or, like, that’s just my opinion that it’s hilarious, man…

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

It may be somewhat twee, and I’m aware Wes Anderson isn’t for everyone, but if there’s a better film on TV for you to crawl out of your hangover with after getting up extremely late than Fantastic Mr Fox on Channel 4 at 11.25am, then I couldn’t find it. You can time it right to fit in a quick turkey sarnie and a fresh cuppa between it finishing and Jurassic Park starting over on ITV at 1.20pm, reminding you just how good the original was after Jurassic World swept the box office clean earlier this year. Really though, you should be watching the football. I believe that’s what Boxing Day was invented for. Once Final Score has finished, switch over to the horror channel at 6.40pm for the intense Spielberg thriller, Duel. Film4 can round off a very late evening with two modern British classics in crime thriller Sexy Beast (11.25pm) and Scottish sci-fi – and one of our favourite movies of 2014 – Under The Skin (1.10am).

Sunday 27th –

That’s the Christmas movies well and truly out of the way now and it’s Studio Ghibli to the rescue as we kick off the day with one of their most celebrated works, the charming My Neighbour Totoro. Flick over to Channel 5 at 2.25pm to see one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s most revered western, The Searchers, starring the Duke himself, John Wayne. Starting at 4.05pm on BBC One is a fantasy movie returning to where it all began with Oz: The Great and the Powerful, which is actually quite a nice, funny little family movie. You can choose how you’d like to round off the day with one of the following two. Personally, I’d go for one of my favourite discoveries of the year, Cronenberg’s body-horror Videodrome (the horror channel, 10.50pm) over Channel 4’s showing of The Inbetweeners 2 at 11.10pm, that both Steve and Callum tore to pieces.

Monday 28th –

You maniacs! You haven’t yet set your reminder! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to Hell! Well, at least until Monday morning at 10.15am when you switch on More4 and watch the original Planet of the Apes – AND THEN later that day you’ll be fully prepared for Film4’s 6.55pm screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At 8.30pm on BBC Three is Kung Fu Panda 2 (read why that’s a good thing in Callum’s brilliant piece from his DreamWorks retrospective). For something a little more… grown up… Steven Soderbergh’s movie Behind The Candelabra (BBC Two, 9pm) features one of Michael Douglas’s best ever performances. Finally, if the forgettable Terminator Genisys hasn’t already disappeared entirely from your memory, then James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day will wipe the last remnants from your mind on Film4 at 1.15am.

Tuesday 29th –

Channel 4, 2.30pm, Coraline. Film4, 6.10pm, Master & Commander. ITV2, 9pm, The Shawshank Redemption. ITV, 10.25pm, American Pie. My pick of the lot: Channel 5, 10.45pm, Erin Brockovich. That’s your lot. We’re running out of quality films on TV as the year comes to a close and I’m running out of patience trying to make these films sound interesting. However, if you think Tuesday’s films read a lot like a list of movies you’re glad that you’ve seen once but probably have no intention of ever watching again, just wait until you see what’s lined up for Wednesday…

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

We’ve got a run that starts with ITV2 at 5.45pm and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth (that I actually thought was quite enjoyable) with The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFilm4 will help change the tone to something surprisingly fun with Denzel and Wahlberg teaming up for crime-comedy Two Guns at 9pm. Tune into the horror channel at 10.45pm for some Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse horror at Planet Terror. Furious 7 may have already been voted for in quite a number of people’s submissions to the Failed Critics Awards, but Channel 4 go back a couple of sequels to Fast Five at 11.05pm. Afterwards, prepare for Joy with Film4’s showing of The Fighter at 1.10am.

Thursday 31st –

And here we are! New Year’s Eve and what better way to see off 2015 than with, er, well, The Adventures of TinTin on BBC One at 10.55am. (That was a rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) More adventures are afoot with a rare screening of The Rocketeer on Channel 4 at 1.10pm and – a Pixar film guaranteed to make you cry – Up, over on BBC One at 2.50pm. I will be at a New Years party by this time (oooh get me) but if you fancy a night in watching movies to bring in 2016, then BBC4 honour Bob Hoskins, who sadly passed away this year, with Made In Dagenham at 10.55pm. Film4 are going slightly more modern and again doing the whole David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper / Robert De Niro thing and are showing Silver Linings Playbook at 11.10pm.

Failed Critics Podcast: Winterval Special 2015

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Ding dong, merrily on high – Steve’s pants are wet and minging.

Don’t worry. He just got a bit over-excited on last week’s Star Wars podcast. But before Steve worked himself up into that state, you can listen to his usual mildly-subdued-self as he hosted our Christmas special podcast, recorded the week before he exploded in a fit of fan-geekery over The Force Awakens.

Joining him in our festive celebrations during this most unholy Winterval and non-religion-specific season are Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank. As is tradition, we start off with a Christmassy quiz – quite possibly the worst quiz we’ve had on the podcast all year. Possibly ever. But moods are soon lifted as the team run through which Christmas movies they’ve been watching over the holiday period.

In lieu of any main releases to talk about, we have a special triple bill where each member of the crew pick their films of Christmas past (favourite first watch of a non-2015 film during this year), Christmas present (favourite 2015 release) and Christmas future (which movie they’re most looking forward to in 2016). It really isn’t as confusing as I’ve made it sound.

There’s still one more podcast to go this year – our Failed Critics Awards end of year wrap up (deadline for votes is 27th Dec) – so you can join us again later this month. Until then, Merry Christmas from all of us here at Failed Critics!

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Jessica Jones – Season One

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“Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I’m a hero.”

Netflix have quickly become the kings of event TV. The marketing genius behind throwing all episodes of their latest show up at 8am on release day for us to binge over a couple of days is just amazing. It gives us, the audience, the opportunity to watch the shows at our own pace. It gives the creators a chance to stretch their muscles when they aren’t relying on artificially hyping up week-by-week viewings with cliffhangers and – most importantly for me – it means I can watch and review these shows as the 13 hour movies they are created as.

Jessica Jones is the second of three original series’ in conjunction with Marvel and ABC studios after the surprise hit that was Daredevil. It stays within that same universe, but plays it a little differently than our new favourite blind superhero.

But, the same as everything in the combined Marvel and DC universes, I get to go in as the anti-comic book nerd. I know next to nothing about these worlds unless a film or something has mentioned them first. My comic book/graphic novel history begins and ends with The Mask, one volume of Hellblazer and a volume one compilation of Fables. While I may not always be the target audience for these, I admire the commitment of the production companies involved in keeping me, a non-believer, in their thoughts when they make them.

Meeting Jones (Krysten Ritter) as a New York private eye, we are instantly given a showing of her powers; an insane strength, as she overpowers a client that refuses to believe what she’s dug up about God knows who and tries to take it out on our new hero. That, as she tells us, rarely goes well for them as the client’s head appears through a pane glass window. Little is revealed about the mysterious woman outside of the stereotypes she brings to the table; loner, alcoholic, you name it. Fitting more with an old pulpy noir novel than the bright lights of New York, Jessica Jones clearly spends her life in the wrong place and the wrong time.

A woman who seems to be nothing short of a walking cliché, Jessica is damaged; terrorised by haunting visions of her past and fearful of her future. Still running from a lifetime’s worth of abuse, Jones must break free from a man whose control over her is more than just theoretical. It’s very real and extremely dangerous.

This man, Kilgrave, a monster in more ways than one, has the power to manipulate people and bend them to his will. His “gift” leaves a lasting impression on his victims, affecting them long after he has seemingly left them be. Thinking she has been free of Kilgrave for long enough to finally move on, Jessica feels his presence returning to New York and starts to see his influences all across her city. Enlisting help from her best friend, Trish (Rachael Taylor – of See No Evil fame) a radio personality who seems to have the magical ability to talk sense into Jones when no one else can; and Luke Cage (Mike Coulter – an almost full-time TV actor who is a regular voice actor for the Halo series) an indestructible bar owner who’s only connection to Jessica is also being gifted; the private eye must take the evil mentalist head-on in a game of wits that puts the lives of dozens of people on the line. Success will mean freedom for the tortured superhero. But failure will mean an eternity of suffering for her, and those close to her.

The underlying premise for Jessica Jones is a simple one; a woman who has spent years in an abusive relationship must find the strength within herself to escape her abuser. The draw to go back to a bad relationship and try again, believing an abuser can be changed or they really aren’t that bad is one that many abused people find themselves repeating time and time again with a form of Stockholm syndrome that makes them believe they need to stay and this is an amazingly strong theme across Jessica Jones‘ 13 episodes, followed closely by the belief that what is happening is their fault and to watch Jones fight her way through her own personal hell is to root for every mentally and physically beaten woman that can relate to her situation.

As with everything that comes out of the Netflix TV studios, Jessica Jones has the quality and style to keep almost everyone entertained and invested for not just the first season, but for the entire run of the show. It’s why I’ll be going back to House of Cards in March even though the previous season didn’t quite hit expectations. Jessica Jones‘ first season lets us spend a little over ten hours with this tortured soul and while it doesn’t necessarily hit the highs that Daredevil did earlier in the year, it’s certainly well worthy of your time.

In the titular role, Krysten Ritter is amazing. Having only ever seen her in Breaking Bad before now, I wasn’t too familiar with her and as such I was quite open minded going in and had no expectations. Sadly, I can’t say the same for David Tennant. A man I only really know from Dr. Who, a show I loathe and despise. Everything I’ve seen him in since (maybe excluding the Fright Night remake) has just irked me, so I went in ready to have him be the worst bit of a show I was quite excited about. But no, he steals every scene from his co-stars and his portrayal of Kilgrave comes with a terrifying air and a maniacal look in every frame. Every scene has a flash of purple – a nod to his “Purple Man” moniker from the source comic books – that feels like a nice, sometimes not too subtle, alternative to having a really sinister soundtrack play with every scene he arrives in. And once you spot it, the influence bleeds into scenes Kilgrave isn’t even in, but his presence is most definitely a part of; a beautiful little bit of direction that sits as an example of how and why Netflix as a production company are becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

But Jessica Jones isn’t perfect. And when its holes appear, they seem to be much more obvious because of the quality of show that they are making look bad. For example, the show works very hard to remind you that it’s part of the Avengers universe, to quite a jarring level. We know it’s set in a post-alien invasion New York – and for those that don’t, a quick mention of it will be fine to set the scene for us all. Mentioning it more than once felt unnecessary and as if the show is treating us like morons who may have forgotten after a couple of hours.

Directors and editors do a fantastic job of making Jones’s gifts seem realistic. I suspect this is to save spending a fortune on effects that will date the show and ruin the tone they are going for. “Flying” looks awkward and uncomfortable because it would be, wouldn’t it? Jessica’s feats of strength don’t look unrealistic because to keep herself inconspicuous, she has to limit herself and as such, she isn’t lobbing sweaty fat guys into the sun and just using what she needs to get the job done – dishonourable mention to one awful effect that is so bad, and so jarring, that the fact it happened in the last episode almost ruined my whole experience – but for the most part, everything looks and feels great.

But overall, Jessica Jones is an excellent show. The only thing that stops it being up there with Daredevil, in my opinion, is the simple fact that miss Jones didn’t have an awful, awful film overshadowing it before the show premiered that it managed to blow away in the first 15 minutes. Daredevil has the beautiful, visceral combat that I covet so much. But Jessica Jones is a gorgeously dark noir thriller that, just because I say isn’t as good as its predecessor, doesn’t mean for a second that you shouldn’t be watching it.

These Netflix/Marvel productions are putting a premium on quality and characterisation and as such, have become a name that can easily be mentioned in the same conversation as HBO, FX and Showtime.

Failed Critics Podcast: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Owen Hughes has vanished. In his absence, the sinister Steve Norman has risen from the ashes of the Failed Critics Podcast and will not rest until he has reviewed Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

With the help of Paul Field and Dave Valentine, Steve leads a brave effort to restore order to the podcast..

OK, enough of that. You get the idea with our opening crawl. It’s a Star Wars special episode that celebrates the iconic movie series, from the original trilogy all the way through to JJ Abrams smash hit Episode 7 – The Force Awakens, released in UK cinemas yesterday.

As Owen has been kicked off the podcast this week, it’s up to Steve to host on his lonesome, with support from Underground Nights‘ very own Paul Field, and making his debut on Failed Critics, Dave Valentine. All of whom have been huge fans of the sci-fi fantasy saga from a young age and share their nostalgic experiences and how it may or may not have impacted on their enjoyment of the latest release in the franchise.

If, like Steve, Paul and Dave, you too had been avoiding spoilers like the plague, then don’t worry. We have a main review that is as spoiler free as is humanly possible for a film review, keeping the nitty gritty to a separate ‘spoiler alert’ section after the end credits, with plenty of warning in advance!

Don’t forget to take the time to vote in our Failed Critics Awards if the force is strong enough to break your top 10 films of the year.

Join us again next week for our rather festive Christmas episode!

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Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

My love affair with Star Wars began in 1997 when they were re-released in to cinemas for the 20th anniversary of A New Hope hitting the silver screen. I was 10 or 11 and had not seen them on television before – or at least not to my recollection.

Sure, I’d seen other big action films before. I had certainly seen Jaws and Jurassic Park – and I am sure that I had seen Apollo 13 too. All great, but nothing blew me away quite like Star Wars.

When ‘A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ hit the screen, followed by the fanfare, opening crawl and shots of spaceships in battle, I was overawed and in love straight away.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no geek or nerd, and you won’t find me at Comic-Con or bidding on eBay for the mint condition collectable of ‘second alien from the right in the Mos Eisley Cantina’. But if there are two things I’m obsessed with, then it’s football and Star Wars. That’s in spite of the prequels trying to dampen my love for them.

So, when Disney bought the rights from George Lucas and announced a new trilogy plus spinoffs, bidding to build a Star Wars version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my excitement was tempered by trepidation. Would this be another Gungan filled Phantom Menace, or a return to form?

I’m happy to say it was the latter; a fun film that just felt like Star Wars. There were no trade disputes or convoluted issues in the senate hall. It was fun, it was exciting, it was intriguing, it was emotional, it was laugh out loud funny and it was dark.

Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO and The Millennium Falcon all return to the franchise along with a number of background and secondary characters, giving call backs to the original trilogy (not much, if anything, from the prequels found its way to this to this corner of the galaxy) making certain that you are in Star Wars territory.

In fact, Han and Chewie are their usual, roguish, all-action selves. You can’t help but love the pair and feel a twinge of joy and nostalgia most of the time that they are on the screen.

However, it’s the new cast members that steal the show. This was John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s big screen debut – arguably Adam Driver’s as well – and they perform admirably. Certainly adapting to and growing into their roles, as the reluctant heroes Finn and Rey, and the villainous Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is dark. Really dark. Darker than the darkside dark; conflicted and irrational. You get this real sense of menace from him. Although Snokes (his ‘boss’) lacked that and one of the downsides was his CGI appearance – not to give too much away, as I’m sure there’s more to come.

The Tarkin, to Ren’s Vader, was played by Domhall Gleeson. A small role performed well – again, hopefully there’s more to come in subsequent films.

It was as though Ridley and Boyega had to come out of this on top. One minor gripe from me: Their thick British and American accents respectively did grate a little bit.

Other than that though, they were both excellent. Especially when you consider it was two relative unknowns taking over the reins in cinema’s biggest franchise. I’ve no doubt big things await the pair.

Finally, Oscar Isaac was great in the limited role he was given as an X-Wing pilot and modern-day Han Solo, Poe Dameron. Charming, funny and adventurous; it will be good to see an expanded role for the Resistance’s best pilot in future films.

The action was as you would expect: Fast paced and fun, with jokes aplenty (more than any of the originals). Whereas the comedy in the prequels fell flat, this hit all of the right notes. And, of course, John Williams scores the film perfectly.

JJ Abrams has proven that he was the right choice for director. He rebooted Star Trek well enough for the big screen – although Into Darkness had its problems – and was trusted with this. He put the right team around him and successfully pulled it off.

I’m sure the film has its faults. Maybe once I calm down I’ll notice them? Still, it was a joy to watch and left me with a smile on my face, but still wanting more.

It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is better than any of the prequels by some way and I think it is as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better.

The Best of 2015

You may remember that a few of us here at Failed Critics got together back in July to tell you which five films were topping our list at the midway point through the year. Mad Max: Fury Road appeared to be doing well in the first half of 2015, whereas United Passions had sufficiently pissed off more than one of us to be the most (least?) popular “worst” film of the year.

It occurred to me the other day: How can I keep insisting that you vote in the Failed Critics Awards this year without letting you know how we will be voting?

Therefore, to follow up on July’s article, I caught up with everyone to find out if their top five films have changed at all since then. The short answer is that for most who contributed, not much is different.

Paul's previous top 5 films of 2015
Paul’s top 5 films of 2015 hasn’t changed since July

In fact, Paul Field, not usually one to mince his words, said 2015 had been an “absolute shit house year so far”. Well, quite!

He added: “The Hateful Eight not landing til January, Kill Your Friends disappeared whilst I was on holiday. Fucking shambles.”

There was only one film to break into Paul’s list – and that was a test screening for an incomplete movie (The Comedians Guide to Survival) that isn’t even due out until next year.

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Matt’s top 5 films of the year from back in July

Matt Lambourne concurred with Paul’s comments about 2015 being a “baron year since Mad Max“. Although he did make a few amendments to his previous list (right) when submitting his votes in the end of year awards.

That’s with the proviso, of course, that he can make amendments should Star Wars turn out to be any good.

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Steve stands by his choices – until Star Wars comes out at least

Even podcast host Steve Norman was pretty much in agreement. “Ask me again on Thursday,” he said in reply to my question. Once Star Wars Episode VII finally comes out, it could make a huge different to everyone’s lists.

But Matt seemed confident that our most prolific writer, Andrew Brooker, could “come up with the goods”. Indeed, he is the first to make significant changes to his previous top 5, whilst acknowledging that picking a film from the back half of the year was a tough prospect.

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Brooker’s previous top 5 films

“I’ve seen a lot of old guff the last few months and rarely have I seen anything worth cheering about,” he said, before revealing that Kill Your Friends was a film that ticked all of his boxes.

Describing it as dark, politically incorrect and beautifully acted movie, he emphasised that “it’s really funny and, it’s worth mentioning again, it’s so very dark”. Brooker doesn’t leave us in much doubt about it being one of his films of the year. Take a look at his review below to see why:

The tale of Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult), quite literally murdering his way through the mid-90’s British music industry, whose celluloid inspirations of films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels oozes from the screen and makes for an amazing hour and a half.  Ok, so it maybe works a little too hard to be offensive, but its source material does the same and it’s that very point that makes it my top film of the last six months. In a day and age where we work so hard to not offend every beautiful and unique snowflake in the world, the brash and brazen way that Kill Your Friends just screams “Fuck you!” at all those people makes it a wonderfully crafted thing of beauty. 

And man, what an amazing soundtrack.

Brooker isn’t the only one of our contributors to make changes to his summer choices. Our resident self-described “hopeless, old-fashioned romantic at heart”, Callum Petch, also finally found the true romance that has been sorely lacking from the cinema for him for a while.

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Callum’s original top 5 choices

He said: “For some utterly bizarre reason, the idea of falling in love with a literal Nazi doesn’t set my heart all aflutter.

“Much like the part in a romantic comedy where the idealistic female lead is about to give up on ever finding real love, in walked Carol to prove that romance isn’t dead after all.”

Having described Carol as the “perfect movie” recently on our podcast, the least we could do was to get Callum to update us in writing on why it’s made such an impact on him:

A film that actually takes the time to build its romance, that imbues the clichés and hallmarks of the romantic drama with genuine life, passion and sincerity, that places great emphasis on physical contact so that every touch carries genuine weight, where the sexual tension is not just palpable but is practically a main character in its own right, impeccably acted by its two leads (Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett), and capable of knifing the viewer in the heart without ever becoming miserable (its ending is one of the most beautiful that I have experienced in a long time). Carol is absolutely the best film of 2015, too perfect to do proper justice to in just 238 words, and I had to take 20 minutes to compose myself in the toilets afterwards to ensure I wouldn’t burst into tears again.

I guess the only person left to share their opinion is.. well.. me.

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Owen’s final vote may look entirely different to his July picks

Whilst I’m fairly certain that when it comes to sending in my own votes for the FC Awards, I’ll omit documentaries and put them into the separate category, I’m still not budging from my top choice. In the upcoming Christmas Special podcast that you can catch next week, I defend choosing Birdman even further. Until then, I’ll have to point out one glaring omission in my original list.

Of those who have already taken the time to tell us what their top 10 films of 2015 are, there are two films consistently placing highly. Predictably, Mad Max is up there, just like it is in our own lists – as is the stunning US drama, Whiplash, which really should have been on my list the first time around.

Whiplash was originally released in the US in 2014, yet didn’t make it to these shores until January. Therefore I feel fully justified in rectifying my list as it is easily one of the best movies of the year. Here’s why:

Back in February, ahead of the Oscars, I put together a short 7 minute preview of Whiplash for Tony Black’s former podcast, Black Hole Cinema [pre-edited audio]. In it, I doubted director Damien Chazelle’s chances of winning too many awards this year, but that it would be a travesty if JK Simmons didn’t pick up a deserving Best Supporting Actor gong. His intense, terrifying and fierce performance as the violently obsessive music maestro, Terence Fletcher, is scarily good. All of his obscene tirades (of which there are plenty) at the ambitious young jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) – and student of the fictional academy, the Shaffer Conservatory – left me quaking in my boots! I don’t think I’ve been quite as close to the edge of my seat as I was during the scenes climactic few moments in any other movie all year. It’s strangely ironic that a film all about performance exceeding art, often ends up being praised a lot for its actors’ performance, but until you see it for yourself, it’s difficult to convey just how impressive they really are.

With our updated selection, picking out the films that we will be voting for before the deadline on Sunday 27th December, hopefully it will give you some inspiration before deciding on your final top 10.

When you’re happy with your choices, just click here to go straight to the submission page and vote in the Failed Critics Awards 2015.

The Ridiculous 6

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A new two-hour long Netflix Original was released yesterday called The Ridiculous 6. It’s the second Netflix Original Film, after Beasts of No Nation, and the first of four (yes, four) productions by Adam Sandler for the online streaming service.

Set in the wild west, The Ridiculous 6 is a spoof of old fashioned westerns, taking its title from John Sturgess’s 1960 genre-defining classic The Magnificent Seven – well, duh – and is most likely also a pop at Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming The Hateful Eight. Kind of like how the bastions of quality over at the Asylum try to copy other bigger budget, better films with their mockbuster titles.

In it, Sandler is joined by his usual posse of sycophantic chums, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Taylor Lautner, Jorge Garcia and Terry Crews. One by one, they each discover that they all share the same dad (Nick Nolte) and heralded by the “Injun” raised Sandler, set out to steal enough money to pay a ransom to a bandit (Danny Trejo) to save their absent father’s life.

For the past few years, the branding ‘Netflix Original’ has been something of a mark of quality. Generally speaking. From some of their earlier productions like the award winning original dramas Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, to more recent shows such as Better Call Saul and Daredevil, their label has been a signifier of some level of quality. Even when some of their more ambitious projects like Sense 8 have left me impressed but overwhelmed, I still kept faith in their ability to produce new and exciting material.

Although, with some of their more recent output like the smug-fest that was the God-awful joyless A Very Murray Christmas, my faith is being tested more often than I’d prefer it to be.

Back in October last year, it was announced that the first Netflix movie was in production. It seemed inevitable that they would be producing feature films sooner or later. Whilst we’re still waiting for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny to get up and stop hiding, somehow this piece of garbage wrangled its way into production and onto my YouView box.

I tried with the best will in the world to give it a chance on Friday afternoon. I managed to reach the 15 minute mark before holding my hands up in the air, declaring “nope”, and then switching it off. I couldn’t stand any more of it. I took a breather, watched a few episodes of the excellent Narcos, and then finished The Ridiculous 6 off afterwards, all so I could confidently state that it is without question the worst Adam Sandler film that I’ve had the misfortune to waste 120 minutes on.

It’s meant to be a spoof of westerns in general, particularly the stereotypes that those old movies often employed; yet I see it more as a spoof of Adam Sandler’s ability to keep getting huge wads of cash to make lowest common denominator, repetitive, unoriginal, schmalzy, unfunny, complete and utter fucking dog shit over and over again. Only, instead of a satire of Sandler’s monopoly on “buckets of turd” (an actual line from the film) made by a much funnier comedian, it’s actually not a spoof. It really is the 50 year old actor still pretending to be 13 years old.

It has every single Adam Sandler trademark that you can think of. There are: attractive women desperately trying to capture his attention (but he’s too cool for that, given his already very attractive fiancé); “hahaha he’s black ahaha and we’re white ahahahahaha”; sidelined female characters (and that’s stretching it calling them characters); an elderly person saying something along the lines of “ow that’s gotta hurt”; an animal and related dick / toilet humour, etc. I can’t think of a single “joke” that you might associate with an Adam Sandler film, that isn’t right here in the opening 15 minutes.

And who can blame him? How much money has this schtick made him and his production company, Happy Madison Productions? If you come at this from a business perspective, thinking of Adam Sandler as just some other guy who goes to work like everybody else and earns a living, then there really is no reason for him to change what he does given that there’s clearly a paying audience for this constant barrage of mindless twaddle.

What makes it more infuriating is that I can’t hate The Ridiculous 6 for being bad, because I actually thought it was well directed by Frank Coraci – to a certain degree. It’s a film that’s meant to be seen in 4k, a service that Netflix charges users more for, suggesting that they clearly see Adam Sandler as not only a draw for new customers, but also enticing existing subscribers to upgrade. Not me, I can do without seeing his smug unbothered face in ultra-high definition, thank you very much.

My point is that there clearly was a lot of effort put into making it look very snazzy. There are plenty of lovely individual shots of the old west, as well as nice sequences that give it a bit of a spaghetti western feeling, even though it was shot in New Mexico rather than the cheapest most expansive land in Italy or Spain. The costumes are also rather cool in their own way too, adding a bit of character to otherwise quite bland caricatures. I just get the impression that everybody working on The Ridiculous 6, from set designers to the well-stocked suppliers of push-up bras, they all seemed to want to do something good with this film.

That’s everyone except for Adam Sandler and his writing partner Tim Herlihy. I’m not suggesting they intended to make a bad film. Worse, I’m implying that they’re incapable of it. In an effort to put together a semi-cohesive story with a couple of call backs and set ups along the way, it appears as though they just decided to forgo writing clever, funny gags. Instead, I think they went straight to a local charity shop to spend 50p on a children’s joke book from the 1970’s.

At one point, a farting donkey sprays shit all over a wall for no apparent reason whatsoever except so that he can do it again later at a slightly more opportune time without it appearing to be too random. At another point in the plot, there’s a rock that looks like a giant phallus because LOL IT’S A ROCK THAT LOOKS LIKE A COCK, which impresses everyone with its size, except for Crews because he’s black lololol. Taylor Lautner plays a retard who laughs at every joke so you, the expectedly similarly retarded audience, also know when to laugh.

Which, in hindsight, is fair enough because I certainly didn’t know when to laugh.

It’s not even that the cast are unlikeable. I have a lot of time for Terry Crews. Brooklyn Nine-NineThe Expendables series, even White Chicks, he’s pretty damn funny in them. But here, he’s reduced to little more than token black guy who makes jokes only at the expense of his race. Jorge Garcia does fat-guy-falls-down. Schneider is a donkey-loving Mexican. Luke Wilson is Luke Wilson. It’s just thinly veiled attempts to satirise the pervasive stereotypes of old without having anything new to say about it. It mimics the offensiveness with neither subtlety nor impetus.

The less said about the controversial portrayal of native Americans, the better (although the whole “four out of 150 stormed out during production” seems to be something of a storm in a teacup.)

For a comedy, it is the biggest crock of shit that I’ve seen all year. The worst thing is, is that I knew it would be and yet I still wanted to give it a go because of that Netflix Original brand. With another three of these films to go, regardless of the quality of Beasts of No Nation, I’m beginning to think that maybe they should have just stuck to making original shows, steering clear of the movie business. Because if the poisonous Sandler infection spreads and Netflix ends up as a syphon for his bankroll (this fucking film cost $60-fucking-million to make) then I may have to reconsider my subscription.

But hey, if you’re looking for something to submit in your “worst 3 films of the year” category for the Failed Critics Awards, then why not give it a shot.