Tag Archives: 2016

Sully

“It’s funny. I don’t feel like a hero.”

Round two of “based on a true story” season sees me a little conflicted. I wasn’t sure I was going to go see it because I really do not like Tom Hanks or the films he’s in. But on the other side of that coin, I adore Clint Eastwood as an actor (and even more as a director) and I try to watch everything he does. So when I finally made the decision to go and see Sully: Miracle on the Hudson I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Set in the immediate aftermath of US Airways captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) heroic ditching of his Airbus into New York’s Hudson River after losing both engines to a birdstrike, Sully tells his story and that of his co-pilot First Officer Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Specifically how they fought to prove that the events of January 15th 2009 played out in the only way that they could have.

Hailed by the press and the public as a hero, Sully is being railroaded by the investigative team who are looking to call the incident a “pilot error” and end his career. The captain has to fight the NTSB trying to blame him, the PTSD and the nightmares haunting him. With the press hounding him and his family, Sully tries to maintain his composure in the days following those few career and life defining moments in the cockpit.

Splitting the story between the captain’s predicament with the people investigating him and letting us get to see the two hundred and something seconds that made him a hero, Sully is a wonderful little bit of filmmaking that absolutely blew me away. More amazing is that it keeps the running time down to a tight ninety-six minutes, which isn’t just a miracle for an award-chasing true story, it’s a miracle for Clint Eastwood to make a film without flab and keep it down to a more palatable length.

Performance wise, I admit that I was very, very impressed with Tom Hanks. A man that I don’t usually bother watching on screen not only convinced me that he was an average guy in a beyond average situation, but he convinced me that he was struggling with it too. The man played it like your dad was the guy thrown into this extraordinary position; and like it was your dad, you desperately wanted to be there for him when things went sideways and to cheer for him at the good parts.

Now, I’m not going to go out and catch up with every Hanks film I’ve missed over the years, but I certainly won’t instantly dismiss any of his films from hereon in. Not for a little while anyway.

A little more understated, Aaron Eckhart was a pleasure to watch. As he and Hanks went mano-a-mano, moustache vs moustache, to see who could take the title of “most likely to have been fighting The Red Baron in a previous life” competition, the pair make a decent on-screen duo. The former Harvey Dent actor certainly holds his own with Hanks and makes the role his own.

Much less of a surprise, for me, was the quality in Clint Eastwood’s direction. I’ve loved the man for as long as I can remember and while his politics – and his chair berating – may be a little off for me, his films always deliver. Yes, even American Sniper and its rubber baby!

But what got me with Sully was something I wasn’t expecting. I remember the splash down happening all those years ago and I thought the same thing everyone else did: “Holy shit, the dude landed a plane in a river!” However, the thing that weirdly never crossed my mind was what people who weren’t on the plane must have thought. Eastwood does an amazing job of giving the audience a post-9/11 fear in the pit of their stomach while they watch the film.

Suddenly, we are seeing flashbacks of Joe Average public out of the blue watching another distressed passenger jet flying at building height in – not over, in – New York City. With very little effort, you’re sat with a puckered asshole as the combined fears of one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world comes true. It’s outstanding work from the veteran director.

The biggest problem with Sully is that there’s not much to say about it. It’s a good thing too, because I can tell you it’s an excellent film and you can just go and watch it and enjoy it. It’s a true story that almost everyone knows, so it’s more about the filmmaking and the performances than it is having to get every detail of a story no-one knows across. Suffice to say, in a weekend that has two “based on true events” Oscar-bait films, Sully is the one to watch.

Failed Critics Quizcast: Walk Right In

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You may have noticed that no podcast was published last week. Well, consider this week’s special Quizcast episode our apology. An episode was recorded, but there was no time to edit it between then and this week’s episode – hence why it’s just gone 4.09am and here I am trying to publish in time for people’s commutes on Tuesday!

In our second quizcast of the year, we’re rejoined by the FUTstock podcast’s (previously FUThead) Matt Aguilera and Matt Lambourne after April’s triumph. Making their debuts on the quizcast special are Ben Challoner and Daryl Bar from Sudden Double Deep, the triple bill title podcast.

In a strange turn of events, we actually let Paul Field onto an episode that’s entirely a quiz, despite his wretched run…. But not to worry, we’ve made him host so that Owen Hughes and Steve Norman can compete together as a team – we presume Steve was not aware of Owen’s dismal losing streak in our previous attempts to win this thing.

We’ll be back as normal next week.

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Moana

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“Don’t you want to be the hero?”

As much as it may force me to sacrifice one of my man cards (I’m a massive, tattooed, bearded, former cage fighter; I can spare a couple), I can’t help but love Disney animated films. I adored Zootropolis earlier in the year. Not because it tries to cure all forms of xenophobia with a cute bunny, but because it was a fun film to watch. To spend a couple of hours every other week for a couple of months watching it in the cinema with my three year old was an awesome way to spend my Saturday mornings.

It’s also the only film this year who’s cinema trips comes close to the number of times I saw Deadpool.

So now the House of Mouse have squeezed in a second feature for the year, screwing up my favourite animations list for the upcoming Failed Critics awards and, possibly, thrown a wrench in the works for certain other upcoming rewards.

Moana is the strong headed teenage daughter of a tribal chief on a Polynesian island. Having discovered “The Heart of Te Fiti” as a toddler on the beach, Moana finds herself as the one person, chosen by the ocean itself, whose destiny is to travel across the seas to find a long missing demigod, Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Foregoing the responsibilities of being a future chief, the young girl follows what she believes is her destiny and heads out to the open ocean to find the shapeshifting god that can save her tribe’s island from dying.

But her travels aren’t easy, and even once she’s found the banished god amongst men, the journey to return the Heart to its rightful place is wrought with danger and the unlikely pair must learn to work together so Moana can save her people and Maui can be the hero he wants to be.

First things first. I went to see this film having read more than one review that said the Maui’s musical number “You’re Welcome” is a song to rival “Friend Like Me” from 1993’s Aladdin. I’ll be honest, this put my back up a little bit and I rolled into the screening already on the defensive. Between being my favourite animated movie ever, and having a real personal and emotional connection with almost all of Robin Williams’ comedy works, I was ready to tear this film apart.

But I can’t. It’s just amazing.

No, the song doesn’t compare with Williams’ musical numbers. But Johnson’s Maui (not Maui’s Johnson – that’s the Brazzers XXX parody you’re looking for) is easily the best sidekick SINCE the Genie.

Another strong female character for Disney, Moana is immensely fun to watch and cheer for. She’s not infallible and she’s not the smartest kid on the block, but to watch her grow up in front of us is awesome. She grows from simply being a hotheaded kid to someone who doesn’t just get done what she needs to get done, but learns about herself, her path and her destiny along the way. Guided by not much more than her gut and her determination, to see this youngster succeed is an absolute pleasure.

Like the Genie before him, Maui – and his tattoos – steal the show. This cocky, arrogant, cheeky demigod is simply The Rock’s personality transplanted to the magical hero. Maui is what drives the story forward. Painted like a bad guy by Moana’s tribe, when we finally meet him and his story is revealed, we get to see the big man – this God on Earth – as a humbled hero looking to prove himself not just to the world, but to himself as well. You can only get so far on confidence alone and we see Maui grow almost as much as we see Moana. I mean, there’s almost certainly some dry-humping do-gooder out there complaining that the representation of the demigod plays to overweight Samoan stereotypes, but screw those guys. He looks cool!

Maui’s history is told through his tattoos, a gorgeous traditional Polynesian design that the hero talks to. Marked by the gods every time he does something to earn one, his ink is a storyboard of his life that includes more than one depiction of the man himself. It’s this silhouette that Maui talks to, argues with, and he brings a huge amount of laughs with his relationship with his tattooed self. The pokes, prods and insults that our hero suffers at the hands of his tattoos are an absolute show stealer.

The bottom line, Moana isn’t a film with as strong and serious an undercurrent as Zootropolis. But it is a story with a point. It’s a story about a strong woman proving she’s strong. It’s a story about a strong headed woman pushing back against a culture that tries to stifle her. More than anything else, it’s a fun, feel good family adventure with laughs aplenty for kids and adults alike.

It’s an exhilarating 100 minutes that I’m genuinely looking forward to sharing with the wife and kid once it hits general release. I dare you to give me a better measure of a movie than one you’re excited to share with the family.

Moana is released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 2nd December.

Bad Santa 2

“It’s just a semi, don’t get so bent out of shape.”

Remember Bad Santa? I mean REALLY remember it? Because I remember it being one of those really wrong comedies that had me in stitches back in 2003. But that was the last time I watched it. So I thought I’d give the original a second pass last night before I saw its sequel.

Man that film has not aged well. An hour and a half of awfulness is the only way I can describe it. Absolute shite of the highest order that only managed to elicit a couple of mild chuckles out of me.

That didn’t leave me in the best frame of mind for the sequel, I can tell you.

Some 13 years after the events of the first film, we find Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) exactly where we left him: drunk in Phoenix, Arizona, with no prospects, no friends and failing miserably to kill himself when the oven he sticks his head in turns out to be electric! When the now 21 year old Thurman Merman appears at Willie’s apartment with an invite to Chicago for a job – and an obsession that’s only grown for the drunk Santa impersonating bank thief in the decade and a half since they met – it’s Christmas in the Windy City for Soke, reunited with his pint-sized partner Marcus (Tony Cox).

A family reunion awaits Willie in Chi Town as his equally crooked mum Sunny (Kathy Bates) meets him at his destination and lays out a plan to rob a kids charity during their Christmas Concert.

IT’S FUCKING NOVEMBER!!! Seriously! I’m watching Christmas comedies in November! Whoever scheduled this release needs to be strapped to every Christmas tree that’s put up this month and left to burn with them. IT’S FUCKING NOVEMBER!

Now that’s out of my system…

I’m not sure of the purpose of this film? It’s not like the world has been crying out for Billy Bob Thornton’s least likeable screen character – yes, I’m including the arsehole from Monster’s Ball – and I’m sure we’ve exhausted all the midget jokes there are to use. So what the Hell is the point of this movie?

Let me tell you, after ninety minutes and only a few genuine laughs, I can tell you that this review doesn’t have the answer you’re looking for. I just don’t know.

Bad Santa 2 doesn’t do anything different from the original; and maybe this is its biggest problem. On a second watch, the first film does not hold up against any measuring stick you wish to use. It’s an unfunny mess of a film that can’t skate through on its cut-close-to-the-quick, politically-incorrect comedy. Not because I’m some easily offended buffoon that thinks everyone needs a safe space, but because the jokes simply aren’t funny.

This misguided attempt at raking in Christmas movie money falls for the same problem for the most part, although where the original can be chalked up to a badly aged film, the sequel has absolutely no excuse for its lazy hack job script that attempts to offend anyone. It only really succeeds in getting under my skin because I took time out of my day to watch it.

I mean, Billy Bob must be kinda desperate for cash to do this. It’s possibly his most memorable character (except for the suit from Armageddon). I will never understand why Kathy Bates is doing the awful nonsense she keeps appearing in now. Between this, Tammy and The Boss over the last couple of years, I’m starting to fall out of love with the veteran, OSCAR WINNING actress. While she gets the best of the jokes and her delivery is the only thing that dragged laughs out of me for the most part, I can’t say the same thing for Christina Hendricks. A woman who’s had some amazing roles in the past, has been dragged into this monstrosity to be the replacement for Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham as the stock romantic interest. And honestly, I’m disgusted for her, if she isn’t already for herself. Brought in only so Thornton can deliver a “I’m not into that romantic mushy stuff” joke telling her she has big tits! An awesome talent, wasted because someone wanted to make a boob joke? For fuck’s sake.

As 2016 begins to wrap up, it never stops reminding us just how fucking pitiful a year it has been for films. As we roll into Oscar-bait season, we can only hope and pray that this unwashed nutsack of a film is forgotten as quickly as its predecessor; and hopefully the world will have ended before someone greenlights Bad Santa 3: Santa Harder.

IT’S FUCKING NOVEMBER!

Character Unlock: Ninjas, Hackers and Number Twos

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No sooner have hosts John Miller and Andrew Brooker dusted themselves off from their mammoth Call of Duty special than they return for the third week in a row with a new episode.

As Christmas approaches and everyone starts to do their “Best of 2016” lists – ours will be here in a few weeks – it must mean that the first game awards show of the season is upon us. As much as Brooker protests that he hates game awards, the pair manage to fumble their way through some of the more prominent awards from last week’s Golden Joysticks.

In an unusual turn, December’s Games for Gold makes the news this week as the lads gush over the freebies we get over the festive season. John tries to convince Brooker of the virtues of Motorsport Manager this week, while Brooker confesses his undying love for left-to-die shooter, Titanfall 2 in this episodes What We’ve Been Playing.

The guys also find time to chat about Watch Dogs 2, another sequel that surpasses its original. Rounding things off is a back and forth with the boys discussing stealth games, both good and bad, as John lets his inner pyromaniac out and Brooker makes a confession that ruins all his credibility as a gamer!

Come join us in a fortnight for more shambolic nonsense as Character Unlock talks episodic gaming.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Unremarkable Gits and Where to Find Them

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The team have all got their wands out and they’re not afraid to DM unsolicited pictures of them show them in the latest triple bill episode of the Failed Critics podcast in honour of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, starring Meddie Redbayne as Newt Scaramanger.

Hosts Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Tony Black pick three movies each from the back catalogue of various stars from the big new release that’s reigniting the Harry Potter extended universe (ugh), with an accompanying review courtesy of Mr Black.

That’s not the only latest release on this week’s episode to receive a review, as Owen explains why his Twitter went nuts after he watched the Ken Loach drama, I, Daniel Blake. Meanwhile Steve rounds up what’s happened so far in The Walking Dead as we slowly lurch closer to the mid-season break.

There’s quizzing, a chat about video game adaptations with the news that another attempt at making a Mortal Kombat movie gets off the ground, and a futile rant about the lack of independent movies shown in Cineworld.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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“You endangered human life. With a beast.”

It’s a strange feeling to walk into a screening of a film based in a universe you are completely indifferent about, starring an imbecile you really don’t want to watch on a big screen again, completely expecting to hate every minute; only to walk out a couple of hours later desperately clawing for something negative to say because as much as you enjoyed it, you still really, really want to hate it.

So, that Fantastic Beasts nonsense, huh? It’s a bit long, innit?
That’s all I’ve got. Seriously.

Having just completed a worldwide expedition documenting any and all magical creatures he can find, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in 1926 New York with a suitcase filled with the beasts he’s been collecting. When one of his creatures escapes from the bag he’s carrying and causes a little carnage in a bank, it puts the young wizard in the path of regular, non-wizard, New York citizen Jacob (Dan Fogler) and into a situation where the pair accidentally switch cases. After more of Newt’s creatures get loose and start causing havoc, he convinces disgraced magical investigator Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) to help him recover the case and its contents.

While in New York, Newt finds himself tangled up with the local investigative arm of the Magical Congress of the United States of America and a strange entity that is terrorising the city making it really tough for the wizard community to live in secrecy from the rest of the world (I will not say muggles, I will NOT say muggles). Being chased by Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and trying to unpick the mess that New York is in at the same time needs Newt, Tina, Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob to work together to beat the magical forces seemingly around every corner stacking the odds up against the group.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an interesting… beast. Essentially a prequel to the Harry Potter series and set in a different country, long time Potter director David Yates gets to have fun inside this world (let’s be honest, Harry Potter is the only time this guy does well. *Cough* Tarzan *cough*) and yet he gets to build a whole new world inside of it. Whole new, somewhat simplified, names for things we’ve all come to know in this universe are here for us to learn. But we learn with Newt, who, as a former Hogwarts student, knows all the stuff we know and has to unlearn everything as we do.

Muggles (God-fucking-dammit) are now No-Mag’s (yeah, seriously, no magics – told you it was simplified), the counsel now has a fun sounding acronym – MACUSA, said how it’s spelt, like a second-rate bond bad guy. And plenty more I won’t spoil here. But amazingly, as a person indifferent to Harry Potter and its legacy, I managed to keep up with everything, keep track of what was going on and understand almost everything said on screen – something tells me that’s the point of this nice new/old setting. Those like me can still enjoy and get invested in a world so many others have lived in for a long, long time.

But the stars of the show are, as the title suggests, the Fantastic Beasts. Inside Newt’s bag – a bag that puts Mary Poppins’ bag to shame – live some of the greatest monsters ever put to film. From the tiny stick insect lookalikes to the enormous rhino-a-like that spends a bit of time totalling New York City Zoo and forcing Newt to do one of the stranger things you’ll see in this film as he does an insane mating ritual to try and entice this thing that looks like a dinosaur back into his case. Winged beasties, invisible troublemakers and a collection of dragons makes Newt’s case a modern day Noah’s ark. Just with animals on board that could set it on fire!

But man, the effects team have done an outstanding job on the creatures. You could literally go to the cinema just to see the Beasts on the big screen and not bother with the rest of the film and still come out satisfied.

Like I said back at the start, the film could definitely do with trimming maybe half an hour from its run time. The film felt very, very long and by the time I got to the end, as fun as it was, my arse had had just about enough of the torturous run time and was begging me to get up and go for a walk. More than a few scenes could’ve done with a couple of minutes shaving from them to tighten up what is otherwise a decent film.

The direction is everything I’d expect from a Harry Potter veteran and even the performances were universally good to very good – even from Redmayne, a man I only recently spent time on the podcast slating for his lack of ability to do anything but look like an effeminate piece of cardboard. I mean, he’s still the big screen equivalent of a lumpy fart, but I didn’t utterly hate him this time around. Overall, though, everyone did their part and made it an entertaining couple of hours.

Now the universe has been built and the series bad guy has been introduced, I expect a much better, much tighter sequel in a couple of years. But until then, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a surprisingly fun outing and a refreshing take on a rather stale world.

American Pastoral

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“What she blew up that day, was his life.”

Directorial debuts are an interesting beast. I’ve never refused to watch a film based on the fact it was the director’s first time out; after all, over the last couple of years, films like Ex Machina and Deadpool marked the first time behind the camera for their helmers. But when I read that Ewan McGregor was busting his directorial cherry with American Pastoral, I admit to being less than enthused at the idea of watching it.

Based on Philip Roth’s 1997 novel and starring McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning, American Pastoral is the story of how the Vietnam war and the politics surrounding it in the United States affects a middle-class suburban family, both directly and indirectly. High school superstar turned marine turned business owner Seymour Levov (McGregor) and his beauty pageant winning wife Dawn (Connelly) live a seemingly perfect life in the Newark countryside; big house, farm, and a beautiful daughter, Meredith – played by a combination of Dakota Fanning, Hannah Nordberg and Ocean James.

Meredith (or Mary), has suffered her entire life with a close-to-crippling stutter, with an inability of her parents to help their kid and a therapist trying to point the blame at the loving mum and dad. Mary’s struggles don’t seem to be letting up at any point as her impediment forces a gap between her and everyone she knows; her family most of all. As she gets older, and the war in south-east Asia gains more public coverage, Mary begins to take the lack of empathy towards the war in her house – and America in general – quite personally. When she finds a group that does seem to accept her, the Levov family find themselves with a political protestor on their hands with no way to reason with her.

Things come to a head when Mary lets off a bomb in a local post office, killing the proprietor and setting in motion years of torment for her family as she goes on the run from the law.

American Pastoral certainly has plenty to say, and it doesn’t take a genius to scratch through to its subtext to see that the point it’s trying to make is about how people are just as vulnerable and easily manipulated today as they may have been then. That often goes more so for people feeling marginalised in any way. But the film is just so clumsy in getting to its point that I find it quite hard to care once we get to the closing credits.

The story is told to you as a flashback on the eve of Seymour Levov’s funeral by his brother, to a fellow classmate at a high school reunion. With a promise of a story of Seymour’s life and how it fell apart at the hands of his daughter, the storytelling device feels throwaway and incidental as it is all but forgotten until the final scenes. Sadly, this is indicative of the film as a whole.

Performances are good, but not really good enough to bring the rest of the film together. McGregor plays the angry and concerned father and husband very well, but his awful American accent is a distraction and it pulls you out of scenes when he’s trying to convey anger or fear. His performance isn’t terrible, but it’s so-so.

I could say almost exactly the same for Connelly’s role as the concerned mother who goes through grief in a completely different way to her husband, adding to his stresses. She’s good (of course she is, she’s Jennifer Connelly) but she’s just not as great as we all know she can be. In a surprise turn-around, the person that impressed me the most was someone that hasn’t had that kind of impression on me since she was ten years old! Back in 2004, Dakota Fanning left me in absolute bits at her performance in Man on Fire. Sadly, since then, she’s barely been a blip on my radar, not really giving me any reason to pay attention to her. Until now.

I’m not saying she’ll be taking away awards or anything for this role, despite the fact that she is very good. I just think that for an actor to all-but disappear from my field of vision, to jump back into it with a performance that strong, is definitely something worth mentioning. Watching this girl angrily try to get her words out as her dad refuses to understand her point of view is awful and brilliant. Sadly, the people that need the most recognition are the people that will inevitably get the least. Like Fanning all those years ago, the actresses playing the young Mary are outstanding. Both Ocean James and Hannah Nordberg, who play Mary at eight and ten years old respectively, both put I n genuinely heartbreaking performances as the young girl suffering incredibly with an inability to communicate properly. Every time one of the girls was on screen, my heart sank into the cushion of my seat as I wanted to reach into the screen and desperately tell her it’s ok! Now, I know when it comes to daughters having a shit time of it, I am a big girl and I’m willing to blub at a moments notice, but damn those girls were incredible.

Unfortunately, McGregor’s direction and the lacklustre screenplay don’t do the largely great performances justice. A feeling of mediocrity flows through the entire film and leaving it a half-baked attempt to be poignant and dramatic. Not what I expected for a drama released this late in the year. It’s not a bad film, but I would have liked just a little bit more cohesion in its story telling, is all.

Failed Critics Podcast: Arrival

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Insert your own pun here about the main review on this week’s podcast being Arrival and yet you’re receiving another episode nearly three days late… Go on.. I know you want to. Get it out of your system.

Well done. Now onto the other stuff in this week’s show with hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes, and guests Andrew Brooker and Tony Black.

It seems only fair that I issue a warning to anybody of any decent moral sensibility who will almost certainly find the use of a particular word in this episode outrageously offensive. It’s not out of the ordinary for the Failed Critics to amuse themselves during recording by being as outrageously offensive to each other as they can. Consider this a sneak-peak behind the curtains of what almost always has to be edited out so that you can listen to the normally only mildly offensive language on the podcast. The fact that this episode is still heavily edited, and this isn’t the worst of what had to be taken out of the show, should give you a flavour of how a recording session usually goes. You have been warned.

Elsewhere on the episode: Owen spends ages trying to explain why Green Inferno is great and why you’re all wrong; Tony gets grilled over The Danish Girl; Steve continues his lifelong quest to find a film about a dog that will make him cry more than Homeward Bound as he catches up on Max; and Brooker reveals the mystery booby-prize that was sent his way for losing last week’s quiz. We also find time to thank whoever it was for our anonymous nomination in the UK Blog Awards 2017, as well as dissect the Ghost in the Shell white-washing furore.

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Character Unlock: Recipe for Good COD – Part 1

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As the annual season of game release insanity comes to a head this week with the release of the latest instalment in Activision’s behemoth shooter franchise, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, it seems only fitting to spend some time talking about the series that has revolutionised the gaming industry time and time again.

Hosts John Miller and Andrew Brooker dive into this almighty series, they are offered a momentary distraction as they find some time to talk about that one day a year that gets RPG fans salivating, November 7th, more affectionately called “N7 Day” in those parts of the Internet that only some dare enter.

As John picks apart the news on the latest Mass Effect, Brooker’s eyes glaze over, barely understanding a word and just nodding politely before the pair sink their teeth into the meat of this episode.

Digging into the early games in the Call of Duty franchise and ploughing through to arguably the games that changed the world, the lads call it a day somewhere around game six and find cover to let their health recover. Join them for part two of this mammoth undertaking next week.

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Failed Critics Podcast: The Magic Number

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Counting on all of his fingers and toes like a mildly autistic Ben Affleck in this week’s main review, The Accountant, Steve Norman has discovered the magic number!

Turns out that De La Soul weren’t lying and it is three. Steve, Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, if you want to be precise, with Owen Hughes on a camping trip in Wales or something.

As well as yet another 2016 thriller to barely register any thrills, there’s also room on this week’s bitesize episode to review two other new releases, as Brooker dissects Nocturnal Animals and Paul kicks off the section with a new horror film, Rupture, starring Noomi Rapace.

We also have What We’ve Been Watching with competitive tickling documentary (no, really), Tickled, plus indie horror The Neighbour – and even a few softcore pornos make it on with the boss absent (sort of). Tsk tsk.

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The Accountant

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“You have to choose. Are you going to be a victim?”

So it seems my hopeful search for a great thriller in 2016 is over. The last of the high profile cinematic rollercoasters has hit the screens and now we must prepare ourselves of the onslaught of Christmas ensemble movies that are incoming.

Luckily, whilst most of this year’s thrillers have barely been able to hit average in my books – only really thrilling in the same way that paying £15 for a ticket to the latest churned out Halloween nonsense can be called horrifying – The Accountant at least has a decent stab at dragging us to the edges of our seats. And while it isn’t always successful in its endeavours, it’s a damn sight better than a lot of its recent competition.

Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a man who has grown up with a few factors that decided his fate early on. First, he suffers from what appears to be Asperger’s Syndrome; an inability to communicate with the majority of the world, as well as a few other telling issues that we get to see as the film goes on. Christian has a difficult life ahead of him. A life made worse by point number two: Left with his tough-as-nails military father after his mother decides she can’t cope and leaves, Wolff’s traumatic childhood is made harder when his old man tries to teach him about the world his own way.

Fast forward a few decades and Wolff has made the very best of his situation. He’s become an accountant with the uncanny ability to unravel even the most complicated books around. This makes him an invaluable asset to everyone from the locals doing their returns, to crime bosses looking for skimmed cash. When a run-of-the-mill job for a corporation uncovers more than it should have, Wolff and the company accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves on the receiving end of an awful lot of guns-for-hire looking to take them out. All the while, he’s being investigated by a treasury agent (the always splendid JK Simmons) with a bit of a thing against our main character.

The Accountant is another one of these films that no one seems to know how to market. Delayed to let the market react to Batfleck earlier this year, it’s advertised as this strange action thriller hybrid and doesn’t really fully check either of those boxes. But whilst most of what I want to say about the film is complimentary, it doesn’t feel like it when I say that it’s played out better than most of its ilk this year.

But I do want to be positive and complimentary. There’s plenty of good stuff to say about The Accountant. For starters, Affleck’s portrayal of Wolff and his issues is nothing short of brilliant. The film goes to some considerable length to not name our main character’s affliction, yet Affleck does a wonderful job of convincing us that, even as an adult, he has issues leaving work unfinished or maintaining eye contact; all tell tale signs of his lifelong struggle with his condition.

Likewise, the way the film makes you feel hatred for Wolff’s father for the way he treats his son is beautifully offset when you realise that the accountant has essentially used his upbringing to turn what would possibly cripple some into something close to a superpower. When you see that Christian is really an accountant/lethal killing machine, you are almost impressed by what his old man did, whether or not it was cruel at the time.

With a superb cast supporting him, Affleck really does shine in his role, as do Simmons and Kendrick, with John Lithgow and John Bernthal doing a decent job bringing up the rear. Although, with such a cast, you may end up (as I did) wanting just a little more from the guys we got on screen.

And that’s something that can be said about a lot of the film. You’re left wanting just a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more. Director Gavin O’Connor – the man behind films like Pride and Glory and Warrior, (favourites of mine) – seems to lose his way in the middle of his two hour math-a-thon. Our introduction to Christian Wolff goes very well, and the flashbacks to his childhood are interesting. I’m enthralled once the final act begins and we get to see Wolff the super killing machine, but the middle, say, thirty minutes, seem to sag. Not knowing how to push the story forward and get us to the reveal we all knew was coming, it just seems to stutter a bit trying to get to its last section. A real shame for a film with so much going for it.

But don’t be disheartened. I thoroughly enjoyed The Accountant. I just wanted it to be ever so slightly tighter than it turned out to be.

Failed Critics Podcast: Doctor Strange

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Apologies for this week’s podcast being so late. It took us a little while to master the art of manipulating time and space, unlike a certain Marvel wizard who can montage his way through ancient texts on the topic. Steve Norman was closely guarding the FC library which meant Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Andrew Brooker had to use all their cunning to get past him.

You know what, I’m just going to end that metaphor there. It’s possibly the worst one I’ve ever come up with and I’ll just tell you what’s on the podcast this week.

The big new release this week is – as you’ve probably ascertained – the new Marvel movie, Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Chiewetel Ejiofor amongst others. (Scott Adkins!)

In What We’ve Been Watching, Steve stays quiet as Brian declares Hot Fuzz the best of the Cornetto trilogy, Brooker quenches his appetite for all things gruesome and grotesque with The Woman, and Owen doesn’t watch anything at all, but reviews the BBC Radio4 horror The Stone Tape by Peter Strickland (of Berbarian Sound Studio fame).

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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.

Failed Critics Podcast: Halloween Necromancing Triple Bill

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Brushing the cobwebs out of the way through the passage right at the back of the Failed Critics library, where nobody has been for centuries or more, we’ve found an ancient book containing spells for raising the dead.

Using our powers wisely, we let Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Tony Black conjure up some deceased actors, putting them straight back to work in brand new movies pitched on this very episode of the Failed Critics Podcast Halloween special.

Resurrecting the dead in a triple bill is about as creepy as it gets this year, with What We’ve Been Watching ditched in favour of reviewing the new release Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and a quick chat about the brand new semi-biographical comedy The Comedian’s Guide to Survivalstarring James Buckley (The Inbetweeners). Comedian’s Guide is co-written by and based on the life of our very own James Mullinger from Underground Nights – check out their latest episode for some great background information on the making of the hilarious film.

Elsewhere on this podcast, the Failed Critics found time to bring back the quiz with Owen in the driving seat. News was trailer heavy, packed with discussion about the new Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Logan trailers.

We’ll be back as normal next week with a review of Doctor Strange, but in the meantime keep an eye out for a brand new episode of our sister gaming podcast Character Unlock – as well as a round-up from this year’s Cambridge Film Festival, the longest running film festival in the UK!

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