Tag Archives: 2017

2017 in Review: January

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“Daddy’s gotta go to work.”

2017 has begun – and with it, my challenge to see a film a day for the duration of the year. 365 films before New Year’s Day 2018 should at least be a half decent way to watch a bunch of films that I either haven’t seen for ages or wouldn’t usually watch.

I tried and failed miserably last year, but I’m determined to make a decent go of it this time and so far, it is going pretty well. Months like this one would make it impossible to just list all the films I saw, there’s no way I can write that amount of film titles and make it interesting; so let’s try it this way.


expendablesWeek One

2017 started with a bang. We waited up for the fireworks and we watched a film. By 2am on the first day of the year film one, The Expendables, was in the bag. With a bunch of new films out that day, including Assassin’s Creed and A Monster Calls, my count was climbing nicely with, I shit you not, seven films done by the end of the day.

The rest of the week wasn’t that successful, but it honestly didn’t need to be. I had done a week’s worth of films on day one so everything from here was a bonus. A pair of Ted films and the end of The Expendables trilogy paved the way for us to start the next series on our pile of shame: The Fast and The Furious. We got through five of those movies in week one, dotted around shit sci-fi with Kill Command, a ghastly “horror” film in The Lesson and a surprisingly fun action revenge flick in I Am Wrath.

The first few days of the challenge ended with the surprisingly fun The Wolverine and the bloody awful Sisters. I’ve definitely had worse weeks.


avengersWeek Two

Back to work after the Christmas break meant no more cramming films during the day. But a new phenomenon was showing it’s head in our house. As well as the animated movies, my kid is wanting to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. She’s been asking for ages to watch Avengers Assemble, so I let her. And she loved them. Now she’s going through a load of the films in the MCU, with varying degrees of success, and enjoying them for the most part. She asks for them, I add them to my count. Win-win.

A couple of Oscar-bait films with the ghastly La La Land and Manchester by the Sea early on before we finished off the last two Fast and Furious entries. A fun popcorn horror flick in the form of the silly The Windmill Massacre, followed by the cut to pieces waste of space The Bye-Bye Man. Topping them off with the umpteenth viewing of Rob Zombie’s 31.

The week ended with more preparation for upcoming sequels with the final cut of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. What a way to end the week.


xxx-return-of-xander-cageWeek Three

We have a pile of blu-rays stacked up next to the TV. It’s our pile of shame. I vowed to have it cleared by the end of January and dammit that’s what I’m trying to do. This week was all about a shit film or two at the cinema – xXx 3 the worst culprit – and banging through these films I keep buying but not watching.

In Bruges, V for Vendetta, La Femme Nikita and Captain America: Civil War filled our week nights nicely this week. With our own Nikita’s comic book film love spreading to asking for Spider-Man films, I’m starting to regret letting her watch them. But I can’t help it, I love the look of amazement on her face when she watches them. As shit as some of these films are; more for the list. Finally managed to find time to rewatch the awesome Krampus too.

A pretty productive seven days that ended with a triple-bill at the local Odeon. A family trip to see Sing, followed by Jackie and Lion that evening.


ghost in the shellWeek Four

Now things are getting complicated. It’s the first big game release of the year and I’m dying to play it. I now have to figure a way to balance playing Resident Evil VII with film watching this week. I’ve watched plenty so I’ve got some wiggle room, but this is where I got complacent last year. So a balancing act it has to be.

But a ton of MCU films in the evenings means that once the kid is in bed, it’s guilt-free xbox time! I’ve racked up an unbelievable number of films in the last few weeks, but it’s not over for January yet. For the first time in years I sat down and watched the classic Ghost in the Shell, a film that never stops being good. For the first time I watched it with the English dub and the voice work actually did more to persuade me that Scarlett Johansson will be worth watching in the remake.

This week also saw the Oscars nominations released, which gave me an enormous list of films to source and watch before the awards in a few weeks’ time. In a roundabout way, this led to chat about documentaries, which led to me rewatching (and the wife watching for the first time) last year’s Zero Days and the thoroughly depressing, life ruining 13th.

Cinema trips felt limited this week though. Although I finally got to see the outstanding Hacksaw Ridge and the thoroughly crap Denial; they were both overshadowed by last film I saw this month, the brilliant Moonlight – a film whose review I start writing the second I’m done with this.

Overall, a solid month. Saw some amazing movies and some real dross. But my count is looking good and healthy.

One month down, eleven to go.

Films seen this month: 60

Current count, as of 31st January: 60 of 365.

Character Unlock: Residential Evil

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And so, as the first month of 2017 comes to a close, the first big video game of the year to make waves has finally arrived. But unlike Resident Evil VII’s intrepid hero, Character Unlock is bringing back-up.

Poached him from his regular seats on both Failed Critics and the Retro Gaming Discussion Show, hosts John Miller and Andrew Brooker enlist the help of Matt Lambourne in their exploration of the Baker Family House.

The gaming trio also wade through the swampy undergrowth of the last week’s gaming news. There’s plenty to talk about: Between theorising the possible ups and downs of a Marvel/Square Enix collaboration, there’s a brief chat on the soon-to-be-released Prey remake, and a trip down memory lane reminiscing on old Namco games in honour of the company’s recently departed founder. Brooker finds himself in Hell as John talks more on his Mass Effect series playthrough and Matt discusses the pitfalls of being a FIFA Ultimate Team player to the detriment of all other games.

In this week’s main feature the team discuss their history with the world renowned Resident Evil series. From its humble beginnings, through its bloated action phase, and finally on to the newest first-person frightener: is it a return to form for the series? Has Resident Evil lost its way entirely? Is it possible to finish the game without staining your trousers? We answer all the burning questions (and a few more) in episode 11 of Character Unlock.

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Failed Critics Podcast: T2: Trainspotting

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Welcome to this week’s podcast as we hold the metaphorical tourniquet and inject you with our audio-skag. No c**t listens to this till we find out what c**t made it.

(That would be Steve Norman, Owen Hughes, Paul Field and Matt Lambourne.)

This week’s main review is T2: Trainspotting; Danny Boyle’s eagerly awaited (loose) adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s sequel to his classic 1996 movie, starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle.

Before all of that is this week’s quiz, which follows Owen’s verbal tirade about last week’s booby-prize, the nonsensical British comedy Essex Spacebin, destined to be this year’s Mob Handed. There’s also a chat about the SAG awards as well reviews of Sadako vs Kayako (aka The Ring vs The Grudge), Oscar contender Hidden Figures, Paul’s film of the year, A Man Called Ove, and the resurgent Shin Godzilla.

Join us again next week for what will hopefully be two brand new episodes.

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Hacksaw Ridge

“I’ve never been more wrong about someone in my life.”

Well here’s a thing we never thought we’d see, huh? Mel Gibson back in the director’s chair for a big budget film. More impressive, by the time the film had been released in the UK, the film has been nominated for a slew of awards, including that of Best Film and Best Director. Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day.

Hacksaw Ridge is the unbelievably true story of Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the son of a veteran and a man compelled to enlist in the army in 1942 once the Japanese became a part of World War II. Signing his life away to the military and wanting to serve as a medic, Doss actively defied orders in the name of his religious and moral beliefs by refusing to pick up a rifle. Refusing to be beaten out of his unit, the young Private passes basic training with his squad mates. His refusal to carry a rifle because of his pacifist beliefs lands him in a court martial that could end his career in the military before it has even begun. With a little help from a higher-up, and an impassioned plea from his father, Doss earns the right to head into battle armed with nothing but prayer.

Despatched to Japan, Doss and the 77th Infantry division are sent to Hacksaw Ridge; a key strategic point that the Americans need to take in order to further their campaign to Okinawa. Starting with a 400 foot climb heading directly into the battlefield, the American forces are at a severe disadvantage against an entrenched Japanese army. As the battle becomes unwinnable and the Americans retreat in a hail of artillery fire, Doss finds himself stuck at the top of the ridge, refusing to leave a single casualty behind.

In the hours that follow, Private First Class Desmond Doss shows a level of bravery most people could only imagine when he singlehandedly rescues 75 stranded soldiers from the field with very little care for his own safety.

War films as a genre have been done to death. There’s no denying their impact in today’s climate, but they always run the risk of being preachy more than entertaining; and that’s not why we go to the cinema.

We all know that being a pacifist idealist would make you a better person than most, but in this world it’s hardly ever possible. I was expecting to come out of Hacksaw Ridge thoroughly annoyed that I had been preached at for two and a half hours for not being a better person. Instead, I came out just a little bit sad that I am most certainly not as good a person as Doss.

Mel Gibson has taken this over-used genre and made it something worth talking about again. Clearly he was inspired by a few other greats of the past – namely half-inching Kubrick’s hilarious and genius opening forty minutes of Full Metal Jacket, letting Vince Vaughn be his own Gunnery Sergeant Hartman for a bit, with outstanding results – but he’s also taken as much inspiration from the history books as he has from films like Hamburger Hill and unashamedly made them into something worthy of its award nods.

Gibson proves his worth behind the camera by crafting a slow paced opening hour that tells you everything you think you need to know about Doss and his reasons for his conscientious objection to combat. He tells the story of his father’s time in the Great War, with Hugo Weaving on superb form as the forgotten veteran. We see Desmond hastily fall in love with a nurse (Theresa Palmer) at the same time as he’s inspired to become a medic; a not totally coincidental crossing over of these passions.

None of this build up seems slow or drawn out; it all feels necessary as we head into the young Private’s basic training where his objections are ignored and ridiculed. You don’t necessarily feel for his predicament either, which speaks to the lack of being preached at in this film. You do have moments where you feel “oh for Christ’s sake, kid. Don’t be there if you don’t want to fight in a war”, and the greatness of Gibson’s filmmaking (and Garfield’s acting) is that we are allowed to be convinced he’s doing the right thing at the same time his Commanding Officers are. We’re not preached at, we’re taught that the Private’s purpose may not be to kill, but to help those who are signing up to do just that.

Once we get to the war and the terrifying fight ahead of Doss’s platoon, we see the full effect of the now veteran director’s skill as every shot fired, every grenade thrown and every body that falls to the floor is a chilling and visceral reminder of the horror facing these men taking on an enemy with perhaps more fortitude and conviction than any American forces have ever faced. Shown in frightening detail in a scene destined for that “One Perfect Shot” twitter account we all follow, we see what seems to be an endless stream of Japanese soldiers running from bunkers and underground caves like a river running down a mountainside. In a film with near perfect direction throughout, this scene stood out to me as one of the scariest moments I’ve seen in a war film in quite some time.

What I found equally as impressive was Andrew Garfield’s performance. Outside of Silence I haven’t cared for him much and after Hacksaw Ridge I might just start calling myself a fan. His portrayal of this soldier that’s the very definition of a hero is nothing short of brilliant. I thought his hillbilly accent would annoy me for two and a half hours; instead it made him a little endearing. After the first twenty minutes or so, I didn’t even realise it was still there – concentrating more on what he was doing than how he sounded while he did it. The young actor amazingly had me believing his convictions on screen and rooting for him as the world was against him. As he fought and struggled to rescue his comrades, I was scared for him and praying along with him. A sublime performance from a guy a have only recently lambasted for being a shit Spider-Man.

Clearly the star of this film, I would consider Garfield the lead here the same way Charlie Sheen is the lead in Platoon. Of course he’s the guy in top billing and the guy whose story is being told; but he has such a fantastic group of actors behind him that to cheer and marvel over each of them would be another two thousand words. Much like you would when reviewing Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic, you have to pick a few key performances from the line-up. In this case though, the people you’re almost forced to focus on are more deserving because of who they are and their generally poor standing in the eyes of a lot of people who would be going to see his film.

I’m speaking, of course, of Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell and Sam Worthington’s Captain Glover. Both guys aren’t particularly well known for their acting chops nowadays (although I’d argue that they are usually decent) but they seemed to make special effort to put across a good performance. I certainly give credit to them both for being more than just watchable – they were great. Vaughn’s channelling of R. Lee Ermey might seem derivative and cheap when he first breaks into it, but by the end of his first stint of yelling at the young recruits, he’s brought his own flavour of abuse to the scene and made it his own. Worthington’s performance is a little more run-of-the-mill as the captain going up against Doss, but once he’s in the heat of battle with the medic at his side, he’s as good as any on-screen soldier you’ve seen before.

All of this rolls into a two-and-a-bit hour-long film that doesn’t feel half as long as that once you reach the end. Hacksaw Ridge has hit the top of my favourites list so far this year when it comes to Oscarbait movies. A war drama that isn’t just a gruesome story about how horrific that (or any) war is. It’s a film that might actually restore a little faith in humanity; and considering I went into this flick expecting to be preached at, I can honestly say we need a film like Hacksaw Ridge in our cinemas more than we probably realised before it came out.

Finally, if you don’t know the subject very well, I believe that a film that’s “based on a true story” like this one should make you want to go out and read about the thing you just spent over two hours watching. Hacksaw Ridge definitely made me want to learn more about the battle it was based on and the man whose story it was telling.

Let me tell you: You might not believe everything you see on screen and a certain amount of completely acceptable poetic license has been applied to the story, but it’s nothing compared to the amazing things Desmond Doss accomplished in real life.

Jackie

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“I knew he was dead.”

Another day, another Oscar season biopic. Whilst that doesn’t necessarily indicate a film’s overall quality (or lack thereof), this time of year it can get really bloody exhausting. Especially when palette cleansers like xXx 3 are so awful that they don’t really provide any respite from the melodrama we are saturated with.

But sometimes, a film can be such a pleasure to watch that you forget about how tired you are with the genre. Jackie is one such film.

In the days after her husband’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is interviewed for Life magazine, giving an account of her time in the White House as the First Lady and telling the story of her life as the wife of John F. Kennedy. The interviewer (Billy Crudup playing the role as real-life but uncredited journalist Theodore White) tries to delve into the mindset of the grieving widow as she spills the beans on everything from the day of her husband’s murder, the days leading up to the funeral and the time after it.

Jackie is one of those films where it’s very possible to go in with your expectations set very low. The trailers I had seen made it look pretty boring; and honestly, I don’t know an awful lot about Jackie Kennedy. I don’t didn’t think that a story about her would be particularly interesting.

But what may be a lesser film in lesser hands is lucky enough to have director Pablo Larraín behind the camera and Natalie Portman in front of it.

Larraín’s direction and his eye on post-production is something to be marvelled at. The man has taken a subject that could have easily been a complete bore and made it something compelling. He’s taken a well used story telling device in the quiet, private interview and given it a fresh feeling, resulting in a riveting piece of cinema.

Flashing back to the minutes and hours after the murder of President Kennedy – with the widowed First Lady still covered in her husband’s blood, silent and processing what she’s seen – we see her break the news to her kids, planning the funeral, dealing with leaving the White House; all of this juxtaposed with beautifully recreated film of the young lady showing the press around her newly redecorated presidential residence. It’s a constant tonal shift that could easily be jarring if it wasn’t handled as well as it was.

But none of it would be worth watching if it wasn’t for Natalie Portman’s outstanding performance. I’ve enjoyed watching Portman perform for a long time. For those that aren’t as sure as I am of her abilities, Jackie should be enough to convince them. Every scene she’s in is nothing short of magnificent; with us sat there right with her by her husband’s coffin. We’re desperate to be there with her while she comforts her kids and we are star struck, like the journalists and press there, when she shows off the people’s house that she’s just made her own.

Her Oscar nominated performance as the grieving widow being interviewed by a man trying to get a good story from this stoic woman, refusing to show her grief, is worthy of every nomination and (dare I say it) every award going.

Jackie is an absolutely stunning film. Its lead outshines everyone else onscreen and managed to take a story that, for me at least, didn’t seem all that interesting or worthy of my time and made me eat my words, totally. Now, if every Oscar chasing film could be this interesting, I’d be a happy man.

Sing

“You won’t be scared, once you get out there and sing.”

I wasn’t sure about Sing. When I saw the first trailer for it, after the Illumination Entertainment logo appeared, I was pretty underwhelmed. I remember looking at my wife and saying “where’s the jokes?”. I was so used to the films these guys put out, like Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets being all about the jokes. Whether or not the films turned out to be good was immaterial, I always chuckled at the trailers. This time around? Nothing.

But we’ve all heard good things about Sing, so I bundled up the wife and kid – also known as “the reason I get away with watching animated films on a Sunday morning at the cinema” – and headed off to last weekend’s previews with my expectations low.

Sing is the story of a down and out koala, Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), who’s theatre is on its last legs both financially and structurally. His business is flopping and he owes more than he has to his staff, his backers and the bank.

In a last ditch attempt to save his livelihood, Moon has auditions for a singing competition. With the entire city coming to his doors to try for the competition’s (accidental) $100,000 prize money, the entrepreneurial bear selects a handful of the best contestants to perform in his finale.

Putting together what could be the theatre’s last show, Buster tries for the best lineup he can. Pairing singing housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) with crazy German dancer Gunter (Nick Kroll) for his opener. Followed by a true variety show lineup with teenage rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson); Sinatra wannabe Mike (Seth MacFarlane); piano playing Johnny (Taron Egerton) and soul singer Meena (Tori Kelly). Each contestant comes with their own baggage and as the big day draws near and all their troubles descend on the Moon theatre, the group of performers must come together to make it a success.

While I went in skeptical, I admit I came out pretty happy with Sing. It’s a very well told family film that, while I do think it’s missing the humour from Illumination’s previous films – a situation compounded by the constant reminder that these guys invented the Minions in their logo before the film – there’s no denying the quality animation from this studio.

Everyone on voice work is outstanding. I couldn’t pick a best performance even if I tried. More surprising to me is when the cast start singing. Not everyone on this bill is known for their pipes and each of them puts in the work and it sounds excellent. I mean, I won’t be buying the soundtrack or anything, but I’ll gladly buy the film and let the kid bop along to it while it’s on.

You can’t deny the musical finale when it happens, no one will come out of it not smiling. Considering it’s filled with pop and R’n’B tunes, I can only imagine how someone who resonates with that style of music felt by the end.

I can’t not recommend Sing. It’s such a great, inspirational, family film that I just want to watch it again and again with everyone at home and sing along, cheering for everyone involved.

Failed Critics Podcast: La La Late

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Well it seems we were a little hasty this week in recording the podcast. If only we’d have waited another 12 hours, we could have discussed the actual nominations for the Academy Awards and not just speculated. Although it doesn’t seem to matter as we were broadly correct in our predictions and round-up our thoughts in a brief news section to open the show proper (after Steve Norman hosts the long-delayed quiz finale between Owen Hughes and Callum Petch).

Speaking of delays – apologies to those of you who were expecting an episode last week. Fate conspired against us on a number of occasions when we wanted to record.

But don’t worry! Even though record-breaking La La Land was not released this weekend but seven days earlier, we still bung it in with both Manchester By The Sea and animated comedy Sing in the new release reviews. We also found time to run through some other movies that we’ve been watching of late as Steve gets creeped out by Robin Williams in One Hour Photo, Owen raves about sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale, and Callum regales us with his story of a trip to see Labyrinth for the first time.

Join us again next week for our T2: Trainspotting review, plus our usual load of shambolic nonsense.

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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

“Welcome to the moment.”

Oh for fuck’s sake!

When I said that I like popcorn flavoured junk food movies, what I MEANT was that I like fun films that don’t necessarily have something big or important to say. Daft action flicks that don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s how I can watch the early Fast & Furious films without rolling my eyes to the point of agony. It’s how I can watch The Expendables without feeling the urge to push a biro through my ear. It’s how I can watch films like 2002’s xXx and 2005’s xXx: State of the Union and see them for the beer and pizza films they are and forget about them ten minutes after I’ve had a blast watching them.

I’m sitting down three nights after I saw Xander Cage return to write this review. I’m still furious at the insult to my intelligence I paid to sit and watch.

Years and years after Ice Cube saved the world, the Triple-X program is no longer a clandestine agency. It’s a full strength government funded organisation taking the most extreme people with the most fearless attitudes towards danger and turning them into super spies.

While on a recruiting missing, Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the agency’s founder and leader is killed when a bad guy, with a weapon that drops satellites out of orbit, drops one on him. Not long afterwards, a team of highly trained agents (that includes legendary martial artists Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen and British Cage fighter Michael Bisping) break into a government meeting being led by big wig Jane Marke (Toni Collette) and steal the device.

Going straight to their last resort, the program hunts out and re-recruits the long thought dead Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) and send him and his team of reprobates to find the device and save the day.

So, yeah. I repeat: For fuck’s sake!

This film has two very clear, very distinct sides to it. Its first part is the cast. This is the part worth focusing on if you’re going to sit through this two hour cabbage fart. It’s the part where you see Donnie Yen kicking ass in spectacular fashion. It’s the part where Tony Jaa continues his amazing life-long audition to be the next Jackie Chan. Honestly, it’s even the part where Michael Bisping doesn’t make himself look like a complete tit and puts on a half decent show.

It’s these moments where the guys on screen are clearly having fun, and you get to have fun. For want of a shittier, more overused term: All those on screen have a chemistry that really shows when you watch them. Action stars doing action star things and having a damn good time doing it. Jaa and Bisping have an on screen bromance similar to Lundgren and Li in The Expendables, while Vin Diesel, the man that has become a Tesco Value Dwayne Johnson with this film, has a blinding time with relative newcomer Ruby Rose. This is absolutely because she is the one and only woman in the film he doesn’t awkwardly flirt with like a dog with three cocks; and these moments are much better for it. Even the surprise cameo that isn’t a surprise by the time it happens is a reason to grin like a fool.

Unfortunately these genuinely fun parts don’t make up for the shit show that is part two.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is so insulting to its audience, so unwilling to admit that those of us happy to watch them and give them the benefit of the doubt have more than two brain cells to rub together. In the space of less than two hours, this film managed to drop so far in my estimation that words simply cannot describe how insulted I felt as a fan of the series and how angry I was at how stupid it made me look. I’m willing to give most films a chance and I try so very hard to see them for what they are and enjoy them as such. But this film with its unforgivable jumps in logic and its inane, dried up dog shit excuse for a story take swings at my good nature every. Single. Second. It pretends to have something interesting to say.

As the thoroughly embarrassed Toni Collette tries her best to persuade herself of the legitimacy of the script she’s wasted valuable brain space memorising, she does nothing but put across the same brave face you’d expect to see on a kidnapped journalist trying to blink her way into a rescue, shitting herself as her captors threaten to end her but keeping a stern, straight face the whole time.

The film as a whole displays a level of stupidity that I simply can’t comprehend. Super-duper signal jammers find themselves a prime location in the film’s plot. Yet, every time one of them is switched on, everyone’s phone still fucking works. The latest recruit to the program is apparently a real life soccer star, so desperate are these people for soldiers that they stole a dude who can kick a ball in a straight line. But, it turns out, this was after they recruited a DJ in an Assassin’s Creed hood and an imbecile that likes to crash cars into things for a laugh. I mean… a super spy disc jockey? Really? What is he gonna do? Drop the bass on the twats with guns? Just please stop treating me like a fucking moron and put a little fucking effort into your film.

I was fully prepared to watch a mildly rubbish film, come out and review it saying it was fun but it’s one that’s to be watched with friends and beers and not taken too seriously. Having seen it, my tone has changed dramatically. There is no need to watch this film at all; I can’t recommend it to anyone, at all. I wouldn’t wish it in my worst enemy. It should be cast into the bowls of hell, along with La La Land and The Absolutely Fabulous Movie and forgotten about entirely, only ever to be brought up if you meet director D J Caruso as the reason you punch him in the dick.

Character Unlock: The Great Switcheroo

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It’s business as usual this week as Character Unlock forgets the specials… Forgets the films… And forgets to do any form of planning.

In the latest episode of the video game-centric podcast, hosts John Miller and Andrew Brooker thank their lucky stars that the big conference detailing Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch, happened because otherwise they would have nothing to talk about. Shambolic as ever, the lads pick apart Nintendo’s new machine, the games that are/aren’t coming with it and the extra gubbins you need to buy just to make it worth owning. The guys wax lyrical on whether or not it’s worth picking one up at launch and whether the possibility of a new Xbox this year (that totally isn’t racist) is the better option when it comes to who gets their money.

In other news, there’s an attempt to tackle the cancellation of Platinum Games/Microsoft exclusive JRPG Scalebound’s cancellation and the closing of a studio near and dear to Brooker’s heart.

Also this week: John finally gets his hands on Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate; Brooker tries desperately to finish even one game from his pile of shame; and both prefer Madden to real life football at the moment. Such are the lives of these boring-ass gamers.

Join us again in two weeks so the guys can share stories of acting like frightened children after the release of Resident Evil VII.

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Underworld: Blood Wars

Now I’ve come full circle.

I’ll gladly admit that I’m an Underworld fan. Since the first one arrived in 2003, I’ve loved them. I know they’re a bit shit, I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but dammit they’re fun popcorn movies that I can happily watch over and over again. Even after 2012’s Awakenings essentially felt like a poor man’s Daybreakers, I was still somewhat interested in Blood Wars, the fifth film in the Underworld series.

After the events of Underworld: Awakenings, disgraced vampire soldier Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is on the run from the vampires that betrayed her, as well as the werewolves who know that her young daughter is the key to their evolution towards immortality.

Offered forgiveness from the coven (whose elders she ploughed through over the years) in exchange for her experience training the vampire “Death Dealers”, Selene is brought back in to the fold by her people, only to be quickly betrayed again by her power hungry kind.

Meanwhile, the growing Lycan horde, led by a powerful werewolf named Marius (Tobias Menzies), are simultaneously planning to wipe out the last remaining vampire coven in Europe and kidnap Selene. Their plan is to use her to find the daughter that she promised to never look for. Double crosses become triple crosses as everyone tries to one-up and kill everyone else. Chaos ensues.

Let’s get this out of the way, straight away: If you aren’t a fan of Underworld, if you’ve not seen any of the four that came before this one, then there is nothing here for you. This is a series that has sold us on more than a decade of sucking people in after one good film. It’s a franchise that, like any other that’s gotten to its fifth instalment, will have a fan base that this is specifically for. So, if me saying that hasn’t turned you off already, then read on.

Blood Wars has moved on from the semi-futuristic aesthetic of Awakenings and has instead gone back to the purely gothic feel of the earlier films. While this is an artistic style that suited the film more back in 2003, it makes this latest incarnation feel undeniably Underworld – and that’s not a bad thing. Assuming you’re a fan.

Theo James and Charles Dance return from the previous entry as vampire warrior David and his loyal-to-his-people-to-a-fault father Thomas. James plays the part of Beckinsale’s partner and together they get the meatiest bits of action in this out-of-date fantasy-thriller.

Beckinsale is on excellent form once again as the betrayed elite soldier. Her action scenes are well done; they look great and she fights very well on screen – as I would expect of someone making as many entries as she has into a franchise such as this. Beckinsale is always fun to watch in action roles and Blood Wars is no different. Her support is decent, but even someone with the pedigree of, say, Charles Dance, seem a little disinterested and not really up for the 90 minutes that we are asking of them.

Eastern European castles, and classic vampire and werewolf lore, are all mixed up with some modern stuff too. There’s a ton of action from start to finish; this is Underworld all the way through.

Overall, Blood Wars is a functional action movie that adds nothing to a fourteen year long franchise (bar a few extra dollars to its overall profit margins). It’s a film for people like me that saw and enjoyed the other films as they came out. There is nothing here for newcomers to the series, although there’s no barrier for entry if you’ve never seen one before. In what should be – what needs to be – the last in this series of fun junk food movies, even the most avid fan will find themselves questioning the point to what they just watched.

Live By Night

“This, right here, is heaven. We fucked it up.”

From Ben Affleck, the director of Argo and The Town – and starring Ben Affleck, the star of Argo and The Town – comes an early competitor for most infuriatingly boring film that should never have been so infuriatingly boring: Live By Night.

Maybe my expectations were set a little high? Maybe I was hoping for a little too much? Maybe, the pedestal I’ve put Ben Affleck on in recent years is too lofty for him? But this film – a film that stars Affleck, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoe Salanda and Brendan Gleeson, to name but a few – and Affleck on directorial duty; this film disappointed in such a massive way that I felt crushed as I left the screening on Saturday afternoon.

After a stint in prison for his part in a bank robbery, long time petty crook Joe Coughlin (Affleck) hits the streets of Boston a free man with money, power and revenge on his mind. Aligning himself with the head of the Italian mob, the Irishman is sent to Florida to remove certain entities from power and start making the boss some money.

Coughlin uses his smarts and is quickly the top dog in the sunny state, making a fortune selling dark Cuban rum in the height of prohibition America. Of course, working your way up from nickel-and-dime hood to being the most powerful man in Florida brings you an enemy or three and now Coughlin’s found himself on the wrong side of some very powerful people.

Pretty much “30’s Gangster Movie 101”

Based on the novel of the same name by writer Dennis Lahane – writer of books like Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone (Affleck’s directorial debut) – Live By Night is surprising in its awfulness considering just how good its inspiration is.

Whilst it’s not the worst film Ben Affleck has starred in (not by a long shot) Live By Night is most certainly the weakest of his directorial efforts. By quite a margin. The man has no one else to blame but himself.

Writer, producer, director and star may have been too much for the current Batman to do all by himself this time around as every role that he took responsibility for in the creation of this film suffered a lack of care and attention: This, considering The Town is one of my favourite crime thrillers (I’ll forgive it being an ADD, Boston based remake of Heat), a film I think is beautifully made and superbly paced with excellent acting all around. Affleck’s latest seems to have forgotten all the skill that made his 2010 crime thriller great and has decided to make himself a paint-by-numbers prohibition movie in an age that includes Boardwalk Empire having once been a thing.

Lacklustre, badly paced direction and a beyond poor script do little to take away from the terrible acting in this film. Not just from Affleck, but his whole cast.

Chris Cooper’s police chief, who a penchant for burying his head in the sand, looked bored on screen. As did Elle Fanning – fresh from an excellent performance in The Neon Demon – as the chief’s daughter: A woman with Hollywood bound aspirations. Both Sienna Miller and Zoe Salanda are neither convincing (nor apparently convinced) in their roles as Coughlin’s fancy pieces at various stages. The whole ensemble seem like puppets with someone’s hand up their arses doing the talking. Only their puppet master is asleep at the wheel.

Live By Night takes a tremendously long time to get to its wholly predictable conclusion. Considering how much good quality strong coffee I get through on a standard Saturday and the venti double shot Americano I take in with me to almost every screening, there is no way I should have been dozing off whilst watching this. Yet there I was, nodding off in my chair like your old man after Christmas dinner.

Not bad considering I don’t remember feeling tired when I went in.

The Bye Bye Man

“My fear makes you stronger. I’m not scared.”

It’s the first Friday the 13th of 2017. And as this most auspicious date now requires, we are duty bound to consume whatever horror film is released into cinemas. So off I went, the good little consumer (and horror fan), to sit in a dark room and indulge in my favourite of all the genres.

Things are bound to go wrong for college kids Elliot and Sasha; the couple move into an off-campus house with Elliot’s friend, John, where they soon trip across strange scribblings in a night stand. The words “don’t say it. Don’t think it” repeatedly scrawled on a board covering up a name carved into the wood.

“The Bye Bye Man”

The Bye Bye man is a ghost, of sorts. The utterance of his name brings him to you and once he’s in your head he can play with it. The spirit shows you things meant to mess with you, to scare you and to make you do stupid and dangerous things to yourself and those around you. The pale ghost-like entity terrorises the trio as they fight to figure out where he came from and how to escape the curse that they seem to have brought upon themselves.

Every time I watch one of these committee built horror films, a little bit of my soul dies. I knew this film was going to be garbage, but the premise of a supernatural villain who feeds off people’s fear, strengthened when they allow him into his head, sounded kind of cool. It sounded tacky, played out and completely unoriginal, but it sounded kind of cool. It was an idea that I was willing to get behind and give a chance to.

Sadly, as is always the case, I was let down badly.

One dimensional, walking talking clichés for main characters annoyed the piss out of me. Within minutes of them being on screen I was praying for their swift but gory demise to put them out of my misery. The hatred for them meant I was in no mood to watch as they try to trade blows with The Bye Bye Man. Instead, I’d rather they were killed off quick so I could go home and wash the tropes off me!

Worse still is that the main bad guy seems like a neutered, pre-watershed baddie! Watered down to almost nothing, I’m embarrassed for the character and I’m embarrassed for Doug Jones (the man behind some of Guillermo Del Toro’s best creations including Pan and Abe Sapien) for putting effort into his role. Writers and director make no effort to make him scary and instead chose to have this man just wander round in a cloak with an enormous blood soaked hound with no rhyme nor reason to his existence. It just felt like such a waste.

Essentially, I reckon someone had the idea of this lanky ghost in an overcoat that looks a little like the pictures we’ve seen of the new Pennywise and based their entire film around that concept with little thought going into much else. The idea of these kids hallucinating things that scare them giving us a look into their personalities is only a good idea if I know anything about them. Or care about them. Or at least don’t want them to die a horrible death.

I really wanted to like this film, I thought The Bye Bye Man was a very cool looking character and this ghost patrolling people’s psyches with his dog in tow was an awesome concept. But there was absolutely no follow through. A selection of ideas put to film with no real connecting thread for them; The Bye Bye Man is the bastard love child of Jeepers Creepers, Candyman, Final Destination and a ton of other, much better horror films.

Perhaps I would have been a little more forgiving if it had turned up on my HorrorShow or Shudder subscriptions with an indie feel to it, but the hyper glossy Hollywood treadmill look doesn’t endear it to me in the end. I expect – no, I demand – much better from my horror films.

Manchester by the Sea

“We’re going back to Boston.” 

Didn’t think I’d be saying how refreshing it was to be watching a typical Oscar-bait film this early on in the year. Between religious period dramas and musicals, I went into Manchester by the Sea hopeful of a good film; wanting a great performance from its star; and hoping for something a bit more… I don’t know… run of the mill for Oscar season.

I know how bad that sounds. But I mean it one hundred percent as a compliment. I was really looking forward to this.

Shortly after the sudden death of his brother, quiet and reserved handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) finds himself pulled back to his hometown of Manchester to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Named the moody high schooler’s legal guardian by his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) without his knowledge, the troubled janitor has to face a home he’s been avoiding for years, family and friends – including his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) –  he’s not willing to deal with and a kid who’s just lost his old man.

Between the pair of them, they have enough baggage to last a lifetime or two and now they’re stuck with each other. Somehow, they need to work out their differences and their demons to find a way to live together.

So yeah, run of the mill is the order of the day here.

Manchester by the Sea doesn’t do anything that Oscar chasing movies haven’t done before. Dead family, orphaned kids, quiet dude with a really dark past and they all somehow meet in the middle and have to settle their differences. It’s an old, clichéd story that hasn’t had anything new to say in years. So the way to make your film shine, the way to make it stick out, is with its performances. Your stars have to make me give a shit and that’s where Casey Affleck, a guy I’ve been a fan of since I saw him in Gone Baby Gone, shines.

Lee Chandler is a loner. He chooses to live a solitary life in a basement apartment and can barely change a bulb or go for a pint without his being a downer affecting everyone around him. The man is haunted by his past and it takes around an hour for the film’s flashbacks to tell you why. Until then, the only indication you’ve got is Affleck’s face; and boy does he put on a show.

The man wears all his emotion on his face and every second he’s on screen you feel sorry for the guy, you feel awful for him, you know the guy has been through some shit and there are no words to describe just how deep the pit in your stomach is by the time you’ve gotten to the end of the film. And it’s all Affleck’s doing. His performance is the stand out one of the season and his recent Golden Globe is more than deserved. A top rate performance and I’d like to go ahead and congratulate him on his Best Actor Oscar now, if I can.

But of course, Affleck isn’t alone here and without the support of some great talent in the form of Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, he’d be nowhere. Hedges’ role as the mopey teen trying not to look like a mopey teen was sublime. Perfectly encapsulating the way so many teenagers would behave in that situation, trying to not look upset, trying to be the big guy in front of his mates and letting his frustrations out in the wrong direction, every time. I mean, he’s no Jacob Tremblay, but he’s done a pretty damn fine job.

Equally as impressive is Michelle Williams as Lee’s traumatised ex-wife. I can’t imagine how tough a role it must have been, dancing elegantly between flashbacks to the days that brought her and her husband to where they are today; all the way to showing us her new life with her new family. Her moments on screen are far fewer than Affleck’s, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful or emotional. With the always great Kyle Chandler bringing up the rear as the brother not long of this world; you certainly can’t accuse this film of skimping on the cast.

Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan has put together a fine tale here, with more than enough emotional pull to satisfy even the most masochistic of weepy drama lovers. Every tear jerking trope is here for you to enjoy as Lonergan tells Chandler’s story both after his brother’s death and before with some pretty heavy handed flashback use. Interestingly, the one thing I didn’t expect was for this film to have as strong a comic edge as it had. I almost felt bad for laughing as much as I did but the man’s crisp, funny script provided the perfect amount of levity in all the right places to stop me from being a quivering mess by the time I left.

If I had to find a complaint, I would have to say it’s with the flashbacks. While poignant and necessary for the story, they felt a little overplayed and, almost criminally, didn’t define themselves from the present day parts of the film in any way except to have his brother alive in them. I’m annoyed to say that I got lost on more than one occasion, if only for a second or two, because I didn’t realise we’d skipped back a few years. But that’s a minor complaint in an overall excellent film.

Manchester by the Sea checks all the Oscar committee boxes and then some. It’s not original and it’s not going to break any records, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable film that deserves every accolade it gets and more.

Failed Critics Podcast: Silence is Golden (Globes)

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Bad episode titles, published at 3am, and two miserly gits moaning about the world? It can only be the return of Failed Critics Podcast in 2017!

Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are on their Todd for the first podcast of the new year to talk about Scorsese’s latest drama, Silence, as well as supernatural hocus pocus shenanigans in The Invitation. The pair also end up chatting about the iconic Steven Spielberg after Steve’s first ever watch of The Color Purple – and perhaps more surprisingly, Owen’s first ever watch of Schindler’s List.

In the news, there’s a chat about Carrie Fisher’s passing, which leads to a discussion about the use of CGI to replace actors in movies. We also quickly skim through the winners and losers of the recent Golden Globes and the speeches that were worth paying attention to.

Join us again next week for reviews of La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

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Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights: UGN’s Guide to 2016

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The tinsel is down, the tree is in a skip, the annual bottle of port is long gone and only the orange ones remain in the tub of Quality Street, but 2016 has one last hurrah as hosts Paul and James take a look back at their favourite films of the past 12 months.

First they tackle the results from the Failed Critics Awards 2016 and discover which hugely popular titles they’ve managed to completely miss. They discuss their biggest surprises, biggest disappointments and hopefully don’t alienate most of their movie-going listeners by rubbishing the biggest critical hits of the year.

Finally, they each countdown their three worst films – and the lads have their sights firmly set on those with money and talent who’ve managed to balls things up spectacularly in 2016. There’s also time for a round-up of the top 5 movies of the year. What a wonderfully mixed bag it is too!

As ever with Underground Nights, if you’re looking for superhero films, head elsewhere. If you want competitive endurance tickling, bizarre erotic fan-fiction, Nicolas Cage movies without Nicholas Cage, and Dave Courtney in a tank, then you’re in luck.

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