Tag Archives: Adam Sandler

Failed Critics Podcast: Tale of Resurgence

taleoftales

With temporary host Paul Field getting to the ballot box and voting in blind panic to leave the Failed Critics Podcast after two long successful weeks, we finally have our Steve Norman back!

Luckily, Steve hasn’t done a Roy Hodgson as his team of Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker don’t bottle it on the grandest stage of all. Assuming that you agree that the “grandest stage” is of course a free audio podcast.

Although they are still a bunch of fucking £50k fucking cocaine prostitute fucking limousine fucking cunts.

This week’s episode features reviews of three brand new releases, with a main review of Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi disaster feature (well, what other kind of film was he likely to make?) Independence Day: Resurgence. Set 20 years after the original, the aliens have come to reap their revenge – only this time, they’re… just… going to do the same thing again. Probably because they knew there would be no Will Smith this time.

Owen and Brooker also find time to discuss a fantasy movie worth watching as the Italian-French-English Tale of Tales arrives in cinemas – and on VOD services such as Curzon and Google Play simultaneously – just a touch too late to show how well the UK can work with our European brethren.

Speaking of Italian productions, Brooker also talks up Suburra, the crime film of the year that you probably haven’t heard of. Meanwhile Steve conjures up a review of The Conjuring (see what I did there?) and Owen continues the horror-film discussion by reminding everybody how great Hellraiser is.

All of this plus Steve’s reaction to Adam Sandler’s latest Netflix feature The Do-Over, James Earl Jones voicing Darth Vader in Star Wars: Rogue One, and the tragic death of Anton Yelchin.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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The Rise of Netflix

orange is the new black

Ahead of this week’s Netflix Original special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, Owen Hughes guides us through why exactly Netflix is becoming such a dominant force.

In 1997, I don’t think I even had a computer at home. I, like most people back then, rented films that I wanted to watch from Blockbuster or another local video store. Nostalgia alert: At about 11 years old, my mates and I would ride our bikes the 15 minutes down the road to the big Tesco superstore and rent VHS tapes of (usually) WWF main events from the Blockbuster outside. Old Wrestlemania’s, Royal Rumble’s, Summerslam’s etc, that sort of thing. If we could sneak in a Predator or a Terminator amongst the collection, we would. But they were rarities.

In 1997, a company in the US called Netflix probably quite cannily recognised that not everyone had a Blockbuster within a quarter-of-an-hour bike ride from their home, so instead decided to set up a Blockbuster-by-post type affair. Taking advantage of the new Digital Versatile Disc, much lighter and smaller than a VHS tape, you could rent a movie from them and the shiny new DVD would land the other side of your letterbox within days. Similar to LOVEFilM here in the UK.

Much earlier than pretty much any of its competitors, it expanded to launch a streaming service two years later in 1999. I don’t know about whatever internet connection you had back then, but we had a 56k modem in 1999. It would not have taken too kindly to streaming a 90 minute movie.

After years of operating under this model, expanding its streaming service into other regions around the world (including the UK) they basically took a step back and realised that rather than keep paying a license to other studios for their productions, they actually owned the means and the platform to create their own content. Financially, it was pretty savvy. Now that they had a reputation, people would soon start joining Netflix for their shows, and not other people’s. Their brand was to become renowned.

Looking at it purely from an advertising or marketing perspective; Netflix knew exactly who was watching what content, when they were watching it and where. To paraphrase Nick Bailey, the chief executive and executive creative director of Isobar UK, who gave a talk at the University I’m studying at last week, Netflix knew which dramas that their audience viewed most. Thus, taking a model already in place from an older British show – chiefly the story and setting – they created House of Cards, just over 3 years ago, in February 2013 because apparently their audience liked political dramas and Kevin Spacey.

What was immediately different about House of Cards from Network shows, was that Netflix made all of the episodes available in one go, advert free. Can you imagine just how mind-blowing that must’ve been, particularly for Americans, who don’t have the BBC the way that we do? Just a brand new show that you haven’t got to sit through 15 minutes worth of adverts to enjoy? This wasn’t a box-set released 12 months after airing. It was there, all of it, for you to watch as much of whenever you liked. Current subscribers didn’t even need to pay extra to watch this original content. All you needed was an account and an internet connection.

One of the other innovations that has let Netflix flourish so spectacularly is how they have embraced technological advances. Even moving from tapes to DVDs because they were cheaper to post was pretty innovative. Amazon are arguably their main competitor for streaming content on a subscription basis, particularly over here in the UK, yet they lagged behind quite tremendously when it came to streaming on mobile devices, tablets, TVs, computer consoles etc. Amazon previously used their streaming service to drive sales of their Kindle devices, making it exclusive content. Whereas Netflix were at the forefront of this revolution, setting the market-standard that audiences have come to expect from any provider they now use.

Whether reviving shows from the cold, dark, lonely pit of TV hell, such as Arrested Development, The Killing or Trailer Park Boys, or creating brand new stuff like Sense8, Narcos or Master of None, or even collaborating with other studios for shows such as Lilyhammer, or Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, they just seem to be unstoppable at the moment. Free from the same level of restrictions from sponsors, prime-time slots or watersheds, they have been able to create whatever shows they think their audience want.

The Netflix of today are a far cry from the “bargain bin” label they were tarnished with when they first arrived this side of the Atlantic. Hundreds of films, hardly any of which you would want to spend 90 minutes of your life on, was not that alluring. Securing deals to distribute shows in the UK like Breaking Bad is where they mainly earned their crust.

In fact, the most fun you could have had with Netflix back in 2012 was flicking through their endless catalogue of crap looking for the one gem hidden within – but by the point that you found it, you’d be too tired and bored to even bother watching it, as Kate explained a few years back.

Compare that to now… ok, the selection is certainly not always overwhelmingly positive! But comparably they have upped their game on all fronts from what they used to be. Producing their own documentaries, stand-up shows, on top of their Netflix Original TV shows; and now creating movies – award-winning movies, no less, in the case of Beasts of No Nation – it’s no wonder that studios like NBC are getting extremely defensive, trying to exert pressure on them.

It’s not that NBC are entirely wrong. Netflix does not hand out viewing figures, subscription numbers or other statistics (such as how long people spend trawling through their site before giving up entirely) willy-nilly. You can’t even find the overall star-rating for a film on Netflix that isn’t in some way tailored to match your expectations based on whatever algorithm they use; and that’s no surprise. They are under no obligation to share this with anybody. After all, this data mining is exactly why Netflix are getting things so right. This is their audience who they are creating content for. You can understand why they would be apprehensive about publicly sharing this information with the competition.

But the fact that traditional television networks are frightened by the competition that streaming provides just shows how big and influential Netflix are becoming.

They may make blunders occasionally, like Adam Sandler’s unfathomable four-picture deal – critically speaking, I mean, I’d consider it a blunder. The Ridiculous 6 was dire and quite deservingly panned by critics, yet it still became an instant hit and the most watched film across all regions somehow straight after release.

The only way that Netflix could lose grace with their fans would be to, say, I don’t know…? Allow them to see the catalogue of movies and shows available on much larger regions such as Canada and the US, and then to step up their attempts to block people from other regions gaining access to said content. That would just be foolish, right? Regardless of the quality of the product they’re putting out in the UK, for example, no matter how much better it is now than it was four years ago, it would be crazy to start telling people to pay the same amount of money for their subscription when clearly other countries have it better? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but when you’ve already spent the afternoon barbecuing at your neighbour’s garden picnic and come back home to your regular brown, patchy, dried-out lawn…

It remains to be seen how the long-term future of Netflix will pan out. However, already this year, the engrossing true-crime story, Making a Murderer, has become a huge phenomenon after its Christmas holiday release induced binge-watching hysteria around the world. Judd Apatow’s series, LOVE, has been an immediate success amongst fans and critics alike. With a new series of Daredevil imminent, plus more movies like the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel starring Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh, as well as the fourth season of their most watched drama (formerly comedy), the multiple award-winning series Orange Is The New Black – not to mention the dozens of other original content on its way in 2016 – it certainly seems as though there’s a lot to look forward to for the customers who stick around once their DNS-changing service of choice is finally shut down.

Owen will be talking about his favourite Netflix Originals with Steve Norman, Phil Sharman and Chris Haigh on the podcast due out later this week.

The Ridiculous 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixels

At its best, Pixels is The Big Bang Theory of movies.  That’s not a compliment.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

pixels 1There are currently three potential reviews for Pixels floating around in my head.  All are equally, vehemently negative, but each takes the film to task for a different set of faults.  Yeah, this one really is as bad as you’ve heard it and were expecting it to be.  It’s not quite Entourage levels of bad, but it is really, really damn close.  It is a complete failure as a movie, littered with plot and logic holes that you can drive multiple cement trucks through and boasting atrocious performances and lifeless direction, it is a complete failure as nerd bait, such is the absolute contempt that it shows for those it spends 100 minutes pandering to, and it is a misogynistic piece of utter tripe that caused my blood to genuinely boil in anger at multiple points.

This is horrible.  This is absolutely horrible.  To pay money – real actual cash actual money cash real actual dollar – to watch this movie is to enable all of the horrible, self-absorbed people who were involved in this film’s creative process.  Pixels is a movie that hates its target audience – which, bewilderingly, is videogame lovers who matured in the 80s instead of young kids today who love videogames – hates them all with a fiery passion, but loves itself unabashedly, and so spends its entire runtime insulting the characters that its cast are playing whilst flinging adoring wish-fulfilment affection on its cast and the Adam Sandler personality, otherwise known as all of the worst parts of nerdom.

This is not a movie.  This is Happy Madison’s self-insert fan-fiction about how awesome they are.

Our film starts in 1982, and teenager Sam Brenner is the greatest whiz at videogames who ever lived.  Encouraged by his friend Will Cooper, he enters the 1982 World Videogame Championships, meets the incredibly creepy and paranoid Ludlow Lamonsoff, and promptly loses in the final round to self-absorbed cool gamer Eddie Plant.  The Championships are recorded and used as part of a space probe filled with examples of Earth culture, intended to educate any alien race that finds it.  33 years later, Earth is invaded by aliens who have taken the games as a sign of war.  However, the world can be saved if the citizens of Earth can defeat the aliens in giant real-life versions of classic arcade games, so President Cooper (Kevin James, really) recruits Sam (Adam Sandler), Ludlow (Josh Gad, who has officially burnt up all the goodwill he earned from playing Olaf), and Eddie (Peter Dinklage for some ungodly reason) to save the planet.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I hear some foolish optimist say in the far-off background.  Ah, but you see, I haven’t mentioned the specifics.  Let’s start by talking more about Ludlow Lamonsoff because OH WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LUDLOW LAMONSOFF.  It would be lazily offensive enough if Ludlow was just a hyper-paranoid basement-dwelling nerd who frequently gets into shouting matches with his grandma and believes that The Zapruda Film was edited because “JFK shot first” (in just one example of this film throwing a bunch of random things you know together to create something meaningless yet is supposed to be a joke).  But, no.  It is far, far, far worse than that.

Ludlow is in love with the lead character of an 80s arcade game called Lady Lisa.  In the 80s portion, he sits around creepily holding conversations with the sprite who is incapable of responding in any way shape or form.  Flash forward 33 years and his obsession has not faltered at all.  He has a full-on shrine to her, constantly notes how he has tried to bring her into reality, and frequently makes reference to wishing to marry her.  This is played for goofball “NERD!” laughs, along with the rest of his personality, instead of the deeply-troubling stunted behaviour that it really is.  And, somehow, this ends up plumbing even lower depths once the aliens inevitably use her as one of their invading force soldiers later on.  I can’t get into it here because spoilers – early next week on my new website (callumpetch.com), there will be a spoiler-filled look at the awfulness of this whole thing – but you had better believe that it caused me to shout “FUCK YOU!” at the film in the middle of a semi-crowded screening.

Eddie, meanwhile, is currently in prison for various incredibly unimportant reasons.  His demands for his release include his own island, a helicopter, not having to pay taxes, and a three-way with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart.  He gets the last two, which, yes, means that he is being paid in women who have no say in the matter.  The film, in fairness, wheels this back somewhat, before plunging ahead full-steam just before the credits roll as yet another part of one of the most hatefully sexist final reels I have ever seen in a blockbuster motion picture.

Then there is Sam.  Sam is The Adam Sandler Character, surprising nobody since this is a Happy Madison movie.  You know the drill by now: aggressively mean, ragingly sexist, spends almost all of the time that the movie runs for insulting his love interest – this time being thanklessly played by Michelle Monaghan and, good lord, what dirt did the casting director have on this lot (which also includes Brian Cox, Sean Bean, and a Jane Krakowski who is quite literally just a background decoration that hangs off of Kevin James’ arm in her every appearance) to get them to appear in this?! – and making claims like she’s a snob for not wanting to have sex with him.  Oh, did I forget to mention that they both meet very shortly after she finds out that her high-school-sweetheart husband is divorcing her and that Sam is the one who keeps initiating the flirting against her will?  Cos those are things that happen.

Now, in fairness, if this was where our cast started and they grew and changed as the movie went on, then maybe I’d be able to let this slide.  As a bunch of terrible people grew up emotionally into non-shitty people who could move on from their glory days and manchild ways.  But that’s not what happens.  In fact, none of these people change.  At all.  These characters remain the exact same for 105 minutes barring one development for Sam, which doesn’t actually have anything to do with him improving as a person, and Eddie, who becomes less of a jerk to guys and also has a development that has nothing to do with him as a person.  There are no arcs, no real developments, no change, no growth.  These people start off as they are and then are rewarded for how they are with fame and women despite being terrible raging sexists.

And it’s not just offensive in how that leads to a glamorisation of all of the worst, most entitled parts of geekiness and nerdom – the ones who completely believed their parents when they were told by them that one day everything will come to them and that women will love them for who they are, and so never changed – it’s offensive in how it leads to a movie with nothing going on.  Oh, sure, there are big (supposedly) expensive action scenes and world-ending stakes, but there’s nothing really going on.  No depth, nothing below the surface that isn’t just being ragingly, actively sexist.

Why are any of these people the way that they are, besides fodder for snobby outdated and lazy “NERDS!” jokes?  Why is Kevin James’ president character still friends with Adam Sandler 33 years on, for reasons other than “to make the plot happen”?  Why does the offending game footage have to be captured from the championships that our characters enter?  Other than the fact that they use some of the games that the guys have played, it’s never once brought up even though this information in the prologue SHOULD ACTUALLY MEAN SOMETHING!  Why mention that the aliens were once a peaceful race until they found the probe if that’s not actually going to mean anything in the finale?!  You’d think that would lead to an ending that’s solved through words instead of pointless power fantasy wish fulfilment, but nope!  Evil aliens!  Donkey Kong!

That kind of absolute laziness abounds throughout so much of the film that I don’t feel guilty for nitpicking, because it’s indicative of how little thought went into the movie as a whole.  Why do the humans spend the first and last games being the good guys, yet spend the Pac-Man game being the ghosts?  Why does Q*bert not speak Q*bertese?  Why are there things like Tetris and Max Headroom running about when they came well after 1982, which is when the probe went up?  Since Q*bert is a trophy given to the humans after winning a game, why do the aliens refer to him as a traitor later on?  They GAVE THE HUMANS Q*Bert!  Why is Lady Lisa, during the full-on invasion, rendered as a real person instead of an 8-bit sprite?  What is the deal with the entire Iwatani – who is not the real Professor Iwatani, although the real Iwatani does cameo, so, other question: why isn’t Iwatani just playing himself – Pac-Man segment?  Everybody knows that these are aliens pretending to be videogame characters so why, in this moment, does everybody pretend that they aren’t?

Since when can you perform cheat codes in Arcade games?  Why can this somehow translate to reality?  And, more importantly, WHY THE FUCK IS THIS GLARING FACTUAL INACCURACY A CENTRAL GODDAMN PLOT POINT?!

See, that right there is all the evidence one needs to realise that Pixels is not fit for purpose.  Seriously, WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?  It’s definitely not for kids, despite the focus on videogames and the presence of characters and games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, because most of its “humour” traffics in sex gags, 80s references, gay panic jokes, and outdated “NERD!” stereotypes, not to mention the toxic sexism that developing minds should be kept far away from.  It’s not even for nerds, because it spends 105 minutes spitting in their faces with every last lazy cliché that has ever been levelled at nerds over the years – the movie equivalent of The Big Bang Theory.  Christ, it’s arguably not even for those who matured in the 80s, since it doesn’t do anything with any part of its set-up that a million other films haven’t done better.

No, Pixels is for Happy Madison.  It’s for Adam Sandler, it’s for Kevin James, it’s for the film’s director Chris Columbus.  This is their self-insert power-fantasy, where they play terrible man-children who are hated by the world for (at least according to the film’s point of view) no good reason, until they end up saving us all without having to grow or change or improve as people and we all love them because, aww, they’re not such bad guys after all(!)  And then women throw themselves at them for being so amazing and everything ends peachy-keen.  What really gets me is that the film is so blatant about this.  There’s no pretence that this is anything other than an extended ego-stroking or masturbation session that we are all voluntarily subjecting ourselves to.

Do you want to know how obvious this is?  Kevin James plays The President Of The United States.  He’s apparently near-illiterate, and he starts the film off being hated, seemingly because his policies are causing financial ruin for the younger generation and he’s lead America into some kind of war.  But he’s just such a lovable bumbling kind-hearted kinda guy who just wants to spend time with his wife and friends, and can’t the media just get off his back already?  And then, once he starts turning the tide of the alien invasion, EVERYBODY loves him!  This is represented by a scene in which a dastardly reporter tries to trip him up at a press conference with a tough question filled with big words but is foiled because every other journalist shouts at the mean reporter, Kevin James gives a witty answer, and we end the scene with everybody pointing and laughing at the meany-pants reporter who is crying after being thoroughly served.

You know what?  I retract my sub-heading.  At least The Big Bang Theory is made for the enjoyment of other people.  Pixels exists to serve nobody but the people who made it as a 105 minute exercise in them telling themselves that they are awesome as they are and everybody who says otherwise is a mean-old jerk.  The very last thing that any of us should do is enable this shit by giving them money for it.

Callum Petch got Pac-Man fever, it’s driving him crazy.  He now writes for his own website (callumpetch.com)! Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Callum Petch’s Bottom 10 of 2014: #5 – #1

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Welcome back to our collective journey through the arse of film in 2014.  If you’re still here, then that means that you either recovered from my inclusion of Boyhood on yesterday’s part of the list, or you didn’t read yesterday’s part of the list, didn’t know about that fact and therefore are still on speaking terms with me.  If you did miss it, or just want a refresher, you can go here to get all caught up.  Otherwise, we’re going to get going with the lowest of the low.  So, with no more delay, AVATAR STATE, YIP YIP!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


Rio205] Tarzan/The Nut Job/Escape From Planet Earth/Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return/Planes: Fire & Rescue/Rio 2/The House Of Magic/Postman Pat: The Movie

Dir: Too many to bother listing

Star: No, seriously, we’d be here all day

This is a message to the feature-length animation medium as a whole.  I AM ON TO YOU.  Regular readers of this fine website will already be very well aware that I am a very, very big fan of animation and take criticism of every animated effort that comes my way with the same amount of seriousness and weight as most real critics do “real films” (if you don’t think that many critics find animation some kind of a lesser medium, you are deluding yourself).  It doesn’t matter if you are a Disney effort, or a low-budget produced by a studio demanding to make a name for yourself: you step into a cinema, you better believe that I am going to hold you all to the exact same standards of quality and creativity.  And if you think that you can sneak past an animated venture with no skill, passion, effort or heart put into it without my calling you out on it?  Oh, son, you are in for a very rude awakening, let me tell you.

2014 was the first year since 2005 in which Pixar did not release a film, and many studios took this as an opportunity to get complacent.  To think that sufficiently filling the space where Pixar would normally sit would be enough to sucker a whole bunch of monies from parent’s wallets and earn an “eh, what else are you gonna see?” from more uncaring film critics.  Those studios would be wrong.  Almost every film listed up there is being called out for having open contempt for its audience, thinking of them only as walking wallets rather than moviegoers deserving of entertainment and wonder.  Some of those are just plain awful, some are passable, one of which was even rather entertaining as I watched it in the cinema and filed my review, but all but three exist for the sole purpose of trying to ape their much better competitors in search of their residual cash.

Each film listed up there has a laundry list of the tropes and cliches of crappy low-effort animation.  These films either have awful, terrifying or personality-free art styles; dull, cheap or just plain poor animation with corners cut at every opportunity; scripts that are devoid of wit, characters, themes and any semblance of originality or unique voice; awfully directed, miscast or just plain bad voice actors – typically celebrities busy cashing their paycheques whilst recording is still ongoing – a complete lack of heart, an overdose on pop-culture references, a cynical desire to just poorly ape the better competition and call it a day, or any combination of the above (and, in one case, all of the above).  And in no instances will I stand for it.

Especially since the other companies who did show up to play in 2014 each tried their damndest to raise the bar that these films worked so hard to lower.  The Lego Movie gave us a fresh, original, heartfelt and hugely entertaining look at creativity with amazing animation in what could have instead functioned as a 100 minute commercial for Lego.  DreamWorks Animation shot for the heart with How To Train Your Dragon 2 – I personally didn’t think it worked, but I’m done repeating myself with that series – shot for straight fun with Penguins Of Madagascar, and attempted to marry the two with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, scoring creative home-runs each time.  My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks took a look at the criticisms of the very good first movie, went away, and proceeded to actively better itself and fix every single one of them near-totally.  The Boxtrolls had a messy screenplay that nearly derailed the entire ride but had charm and heart and energy to carry itself through regardless, whilst The Book Of Life allowed an underrated auteur the money and scope to run wild, creating one of the most visually astounding animated films I have ever seen, and one with enough heart and love to downplay its various issues.

Point is, these films try.  They really try.  They’re not just trying suck money from wallets, they’re trying to be great and do their own unique things.  Christ, even the Tinkerbell series is aiming for the heart and has enough sweet sincerity and joy to carry it through its lightweight and occasionally more low-quality moments (turns out that, Pirate Fairy aside, I am a fan of that series).  Animation means a tonne to me, the whole process, the whole medium – you should have seen how legitimately bummed out I was upon hearing the news of Christine Cavanaugh’s passing – and I refuse to let blatant, low-quality contemptuous cash-grabs like the films listed above drag the pure wonder and imagination and possibility of this medium down by their mere existence.  No fucking way.  I am not going to let them prove the snottier members of the film industry right.

So allow me to send out this message to the feature-length animation industry at large: you are all on notice.  As long as I am walking this Earth – whether that be in this body or in a cyborg version of my body that my consciousness downloads into, like those in Ghost In The Shell – you will all be going through me.  I will be merciless, you will never hear the phrase “good enough for the kids” part from my lips because I know for a fact that, as a kid, I would have demanded better always, and I will most of all be honest.  I expect a lot because this medium can do so much, and I will not let low-quality or mediocre wastes of space pass by unscathed.  If you can’t match, or don’t want to match, the quality of animation on television right now that I and kids around the world can watch for free – like Gravity Falls, Regular Show, Wander Over Yonder, or The Legend Of Korra – then scrap everything and start again because why the fuck should I and we devote time and money to you if you’re not aiming for the level of free entertainment?  You have all been warned.

Oh, and for the record?  Worst animated film of the year is The Nut Job, maybe even of the decade.  It’s not even a contest.


04] Men, Women & Childrenmen women and children

Dir: Jason Reitman

Star: Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Dean Norris, the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson

Oh, Jason Reitman.  What the f*ck happened to you, man?  You made Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult, and Thank You Smoking!  And then, in the space of 12 months, you make Labor Day and Men, Women & Children?  Is this some kind of James Franco-esque performance art piece?  Did you voluntarily take a torch to your once-promising career just to see how devoted fans like myself would react?  Did you trip over something in the dark, bang your head and just forget how to make good movies?  Was your family held hostage by madmen who refused to let them go until you shat out two utterly irredeemable stinkers to sully your track record possibly irreparably?  What is it?  I need answers, man!

Men, Women & Children is the kind of film that I would have spent almost the entire runtime inadvertently and derisively laughing at and mocking had it come from anybody else and were it any less self-serious about itself.  Men, Women & Children is a walking self-parody that is way too goddamn serious about its overly delusional fears of the Internet and technology to find the slightest bit funny.  A tone-deaf, one-sided, hysterical (in the sense that it’s gone mad from trying to make its point) two hour screed against the Internet and modern technology that only serves to make its co-writer and director seem like the kind of crotchety old man who yells at those darn kids to get off of his lawn and who lives for Bingo night.

It saddles its very talented cast with material better fit for a failing first year drama group, creates a hateful straw-woman to invite viewers to throw righteous scorn at only to turn around and spend 95% of its runtime agreeing with her, and maniacally believes that all of the world’s relationship and intimacy problems would be solved if the Internet and modern technology didn’t exist.  It has an incredibly conservative and dim view on any kind of sex and sexual arousal that doesn’t have to do with the ‘traditional’ way of doing things.  It constantly tries to make its point that all of our personal problems that technology amplifies are ultimately small and meaningless by repeatedly cutting to the Hubble telescope and very subtly hinting that we should drop our reliance on technology and instead get to work on technology, in a blissfully ignorant piece of hypocrisy.  It is a film with nothing new or interesting or nuanced to say despite its grim, serious, sermonising message-movie tone.

It, may I remind you, is a film in which Dean Norris actually jumps back in shock and mild fear from his computer when he discovers that pressing up on a keyboard causes a videogame avatar to move forward.  And let’s not forget the moment in which Adam Sandler tries to straight-facedly finger 9/11 as the moment where we as a society retreated into technology and everything subsequently changed for the worse.

Look, I am not inherently opposed to media that portrays technology as evil or a thing to be feared – I, like any good person, adore Black Mirror – but if you are going to make a serious and frequently anti-tech look at the way that technology and the Internet have affected our modern day relationships, spending two hours hysterically shrieking at the top of your lungs that “THE INTERNET IS EVIL!  IT MUST BE PURGED TO SAVE US ALL!  I AM THE VERY FIRST PERSON TO EVER COME TO THIS CONCLUSION!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” is not the way to go about it.  The most maddening part of Men, Women & Children is that there is a damn great, nuanced, smart and thought-provoking film to be made using these actors, this director and this set-up, and at no point does the finished product ever hint at that better movie.  It sucks, it sucks uncontrollably and insufferably, and I worry that Jason Reitman may be incapable of bouncing back.  I really hope I am wrong.


nativity 303] Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!

Dir: Debbie Isitt

Star: Martin Clunes, Marc Wooton, Catherine Tate

Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! is the worst film of 2014.  It is the worst film I have ever sat through to the very end.  Nativity! 3 is the abyss of cinema made corporeal.  The Nativity! series has never been good, but at least the first one attempted to be a film that was watchable and the second was still a film – sort of, in that it at least had a coherent plot even if it bordered on being unwatchable.  Nativity! 3, however, is a giant middle finger to the entire concept of film, filmmaking, and the audience who voluntarily chose to part with their time and money by watching it.

There is no plot to Nativity! 3.  The other instalments in this abominable series at least attempted to have something resembling a coherent plot.  This one has no such attempt.  Stuff happens, with no rhyme or reason.  Plots and arcs and characters are brought up, discarded, brought back, dumped in the bin, treated with absolutely no care or sensitivity, used to simply mark time and nothing else, or force their way into proceedings at the most inopportune moments.  Nothing makes sense and the film doesn’t care that none of this makes sense.  I’d say that a 5 year-old could do better than this but, quite frankly, I get the feeling that this is all very deliberate.  “Go on,” the film seems to taunt, “Try and make sense of this.  Try and explain how we got from Martin Clunes arriving at the world’s worst primary school to whip the kids into shape, to an entire class full of kids serenading Catherine Tate at a wedding in New York that’s not to the fiancée she started out the film with, without frying and killing several of your most important brain cells.”

And I assume that it’s deliberate because, quite frankly, everything about Nativity! 3 seems carefully controlled and co-ordinated to be as deliberately offensively awful as is humanly possible.  Why else would every performance be screeched at the top of everyone’s lungs with no subtlety or variation?  Why else would the film purport to be a musical yet drop its musical conceit for half of its runtime and, despite having already done this twice before, have every single one of its songs be shot and choreographed with no flair and a faint collective embarrassment about it all?  Why else would the film revel in its sub-CBBC production values and shooting style?  Why else would Mr. Poppy, the single worst, most annoying and most evil character in film today, continue to hang around and be treated like some kind of saint and somebody we should all look up to?

And this sh*t is being peddled for kids!  Everybody involved believes that the abomination that they have crafted is perfect for kids!  Maybe it is, if you hate your kids and think that they are no more intelligent than the bacteria that thrives in your toilet bowl.  No kid deserves to be forced to sit through this tripe, no matter how bad they’ve been.  This is a film that thinks kids are total imbeciles who should reject any and all authority, follow around a clearly mentally-ill man who they don’t have permission to run off with and who is not even employed by the school he keeps hanging around at, do the bidding of said man with no hesitation or complaint, blame the victim for anything bad that happens to them frequently and mercilessly – seriously, the film keeps loudly shouting that it was recent amnesiac Martin Clunes’ own fault for losing his memory and that the reason that he doesn’t get his memories back is because he doesn’t want to, and is proven to be right – and angrily and threateningly rap at said victim for any perceived mistake.

Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! – and, incidentally, I am immensely saddened by the fact that it is 2014 and we are still making “Dude, where’s my car?” jokes – is anti-cinema.  It is a film that hates everyone and everything, spending every last second of its inexplicable 110 minute runtime actively daring the viewer to keep watching, and has such a blatant disregard for the basic tenants of good filmmaking that I can only take it as a deliberate and intentional desire to make the worst film ever released in human existence.  If it was, then congratulations, I am 99% certain that everyone involved has succeeded in their lofty goal.

The film’s writer-director Debbie Isitt, who once upon a time brought us the genuinely decent Confetti, hit back against critics who derided her film claiming that we critics are “just so out of touch with what people like or want.”  If this is what the people like and want, then God help us all.


02] What Ifwhat if 2

Dir: Michael Dowse

Star: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall

Fuck off.

 


the riot club 2

01] The Riot Club

Dir: Lone Scherfig

Star: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth

So, after 7,000 words, 11 pages, 16 films and pretty much every single negative adjective in the English language, we have arrived at my Bottom Film of 2014.  We have gone through films that disappointed me, films that encapsulated everything wrong with current cinema, films that fail at the basic tenants of filmmaking, and films that just plain pissed me off.  But none of those have taken my absolute bottom slot on my 2014 list.  Instead, and from the moment I saw it I knew it was destined for this slot, it went to The Riot Club.  So, why?  Why The Riot Club over “the abyss of cinema” and a sh*tty rom-com that wouldn’t stop infecting my brain for at least a month after I saw it.

Simple.  Because, unlike those two films, I was literally five seconds away from walking out of The Riot Club.

Allow me to explain.  The Riot Club is a British thriller centred around the exploits of the titular club – a very unsubtle expy of the famous Bullingdon Club – home of the richest, poshest and most spoilt male members of Oxford University.  These are the men who will go on to basically run the country and the club is their place to abuse their privilege, blow off steam, and generally just behave as vile, loathsome degenerates.  They mentally and physically abuse each other, recklessly destroy public and private property, sexually harass any and all women they see, and spout things like “I am sick to death of POOR PEOPLE!”  It is not unclear as to what exactly this film’s message is.  And whilst that would lead to the question as to why one would sit through 107 minutes of this stuff, it’s not inherently a problem since the film sounds clear and consistent in its message.

Except that it is not.  Not at all.  The Riot Club spends 107 minutes being openly, loudly and insufferably hypocritical.  See, The Riot Club wants you to hate these disgusting cretins, and spends much of its runtime screaming at you about how terrible these upper-class twits are.  However, The Riot Club also spends its time indulging them, egging them on, wanting them to be bad, evil, violent, sexist, rape-y so that it has more material to film.  For every scene where it invites the audience to fling fruit at its cast, there’s another where it turns around screams “More!  MORE!  MORE!!” at the cast it supposedly hates, revelling in the debauchery it otherwise spends its runtime constantly denouncing as evil and awful.

In other words, it’s a worst case scenario equivalent of The Wolf Of Wall Street.  That film never openly denounces its despicable cast of characters because it knows that the audience will get how awful these characters are through their actions.  It doesn’t indulge them, it doesn’t openly judge, and it always keeps its moral compass and central message clear and lifted above the muck of everything else.  By contrast, The Riot Club is a humourless nagging nanny that thinks the audience won’t understand that the posh upper classes think of the lower classes as pond scum unless it has multiple walking cartoon characters state as much out loud every 5 minutes.  It indulges them frequently, sets them up to make themselves look awful, and lowers itself to their level as if it is having just as much fun preying on and exploiting their antics as they do preying on the lower-classes.

And when the film gets to its centrepiece – a near 50 minute sequence set at a club dinner that screams “this is where we’re just going to do the play the film is based on now, if that’s OK” – it becomes a test of just how much longer one can take the hypocrisy.  Does one stop during the endless drinking games?  How about when they continually insult the perfectly nice lower-class hosts?  When they bring in a female sex worker and try everything to keep her from leaving?  How about when Milo’s middle-class girlfriend turns up and we seem about 3 seconds away from a rape scene?  All the while, the film practically jerks off to itself on screen.  “Yes!  Yes!  More!  Threaten Natalie Dormer a little more!  Smash up that back room like a group of apes flinging their poo around!  Yes!  Phwoah!”

My final straw came when the lower-class pub owner, who has had enough of their degenerate antics in his establishment, comes to throw them out and everybody takes turns beating him to a state of near-death.  This scene, much like everything in this goddamn f*cking movie, goes on for an uncomfortably long time, as the film takes its sweet time deriving its own sick pleasure from the action being depicted.  Much like everything else in the film, what starts as The Riot Club shouting “Shame on you!  You people are despicable!” morphs into it yelling “Yeah!  YEAH!  KICK HIS FUCKING HEAD IN!  THE TWAT DESERVES IT!”

And at that point, I reached over, grabbed my bag and jacket, stood up and started walking towards the exit.  I was done.  I was tapping out.  I was about to walk out of a film, which I had never done before in my entire life.  The sole film I had ever stopped on its first showing because I refused to witness one more second of it was Disaster Movie and its dubious club was about to get a new member, only this time I was actually going to walk out of a cinema.

But then I checked my watch, to see how far in I’d made it to what was about to become the second film to ever beat me.  To my surprise, I discovered that I only had 20 minutes left to sit through.  Of the 107 minutes that the film was scheduled to run for, I had survived 87.  The finish line was in sight and I was about to give up.  So, reasoning that I’d managed to make it this far and that there wasn’t enough time left for the film to somehow sink even lower, I turned around, went back to my seat, put my jacket and bag back in place, and sat back down.  Sure enough, the film didn’t manage to plumb even further depths in those remaining 20 minutes and I managed to avoid my first walk-out by mere seconds.

That is why The Riot Club is #1 on My Bottom 10 Films of 2014.  It is an evil little film and it was literally 5 seconds away from beating me.  If that doesn’t deserve the top placement, I don’t know what does.


And so wraps up My Bottom 10 Films of 2014 list, as well as my review of 2014!  It, despite this list, has been a great year for films (although not so much for everything else) and I am so grateful for the ability to use space on this website to talk about it all over the past year.  Thank you to every single one of you for reading my work, leaving your feedback and generally just not chasing me away with pitchforks and torches!  Here’s to 2015!

Callum Petch is about to run through more cities than Attila The Hun.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Men, Women & Children

People apparently still make films like Men, Women & Children.  This is disconcerting.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

men women & childrenDear Jason Reitman,

Congratulations!  You have just directed and co-written one of the absolute worst and most reprehensible pieces of shit I have bared witness to in all of 2014!  I can imagine that you approached the task of directing and co-writing Men, Women & Children – based on a 2011 novel by Chad Kultgen – with some trepidation.  I mean, after all, how could you possibly bottom out harder than you did when you wrote and directed Labor Daya relentless schmaltzy bucket of unicorn piss where Stockholm Syndrome is supposedly the most romantic thing in the world?  Yet you did not let that high bar hit your determination, and you managed to surpass it in just pure, Stone Age, out-of-touch backwardness with flying colours!  Well done!  Gold star!

I mean, it’s 2014 and you made a film all about how technology is The Devil!  I thought that we had outgrown that kind of shit by 2003!  One of the characters in your film blames 9/11 for the rise of mobile phones and the Internet!  I mean, that takes real conscious effort!  That’s not the kind of sentence one tosses off without thinking about.  That takes real, honest effort; the kind where the person who writes it down sits back and reflects upon it and at no point goes, “No, wait, hang on a minute, that’s f*cking stupid and borderline offensive.”  And for a scene like that to perfectly encapsulate proceedings as a whole requires that kind of real, honest effort to sustain itself through two full hours.  So I applaud your commitment, Mr. Reitman!

I especially admire just how far you push your pretentious “Oh, look at me, I have something to say that nobody has ever thought of or expressed before!” sentiments by framing the film with frequent cutbacks to the NASA space probe Voyager, whilst an absolutely wasted and bored-as-hell Emma Thompson drones on in the background about everything and nothing at once.  Like, the message that we are all tiny insignificant specks fretting over nothing and wasting our lives away with technology instead of putting our minds together and attempting to improve humanity’s future by building technology?  Sheer genius!  I’m also certain that the fact that the rest of the film is so vehemently anti-technology and anti-Internet – because of how it is RUINING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS – didn’t pass you by and you, therefore, chose to be so blatantly hypocritical because that’s just how committed you were to making an utterly dreadful piece of crap!

Anyways, sorry, your main message from Men, Women & Children: the Internet and mobile phones and the kids today with their texting and their Instagramming and their vidjagames and their wotsits and howdiddos are ruining everybody’s relationships forever.  Very interesting.  Original, too!  Not ideas-wise, I mean, but in sheer bloody commitment and bald-faced moralising about it all.  I mean, even Transcendence wasn’t this committed to its moralising beliefs, and that was a film that believed that women should stay away from science because their emotions ruin everything!  You, Jason Reitman, could have used this topic for a genuinely balanced and interesting look at how technology has affected our lives and day-to-day relationships.  But, hey, why do that when we can coat proceedings in endless dour humourless “guys, I have just had this huge brainwave” serious tone, strip out any trace of another side to this argument, and just speechify and moralise for two straight hours?

After all, did you hear that people use the Internet and text messaging and the like to bully people and send death threats?  And that there are places and images on the Internet that promote anorexic levels of thinness, which can really hurt a young woman’s self-esteem?  And we can’t forget about those darn videogames that encourage long-form play!  Oh, and how about how the Internet allows teenagers to post revealing pictures of themselves online despite not being of age?  These are all things that happen – they’re not the only things that happen on the Internet, but why let that little fact get in the way of some scaremongering, eh? – and you rightly chose to present them as if you and your co-writer, Secretary’s Erin Cressida Wilson, were the very first people to have ever discovered them and your viewers are Amish farmers frozen in the 1950s who have just been thawed!  Really adds to the stupidly moralistic feel.

Oh, and porn!  Let’s not forget about porn!  Porn warps one’s mind and makes them incapable of experiencing real intimacy because their mind has been irreparably twisted by the uncouth fantasies and desires that porn does to a young man’s mind!  I must also applaud your distributor, Paramount, for choosing to release Men, Women & Children just 4 days after British government passed a number of laws banning certain acts in pornography, by the by.  Truly inspired timing!  I mean, what would have come off as a preachy Puritan parent beforehand now gets to come off as morally righteous propaganda that our idiot politicians would likely applaud and back as proof of their decision!

Besides, as we all know, pornography is The Absolute Devil and the Internet doubles that devilry by making it easier than ever to get a hold of it.  Plus, now there’s no fun in it!  After all, back in your day, Mr. Reitman, finding pornography was a rite of passage!  One passed down from generation to generation as young sons would stumble upon their father’s magazine collection and continue the cycle.  Excellent work putting that sentiment into your script and having an unreally bored Emma Thompson read it with no trace of sarcasm or irony to really seal that Crotchety Old Man stance, by the by.  This whole thread is like you watched Don Jon and set out to make a film that does the exact opposite of that film’s nuanced take on Porn Addiction; I admire that commitment.

Anyways: relationships!  What is up with those, amiright?  Mr. Reitman, I must say that I find your approach to the various aspects of relationships depicted in this film to be wonderfully misguided.  I mean, it takes brass balls to make a two hour feature whose primary message reads “These relationships would be considerably less f*cked if the Internet weren’t around to facilitate these darkest desires!”  After all, Judy Greer’s pushy exploitative stage mom would never have pushed her daughter, Olivia Crocicchia, into being such a selfish shitty human being if the Internet didn’t literally allow her to exploit her daughter, and Olivia wouldn’t have become such a shitty human being if she didn’t measure her life by her follower count – because teenagers had never worried about popularity until these convenient number totals came along!

Meanwhile, Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt – married parents who no longer feel any desire for one another – would never have started having affairs on one another if it weren’t for the Internet!  After all, the Internet makes it too darn easy; there are literally websites set up for the sole purpose of meeting people to have affairs with!  And their teenage son would have been such a happy and normal boy if it weren’t for that blasted porn warping his brain.  Elena Kampouris, elsewhere, wouldn’t be having body image issues if that damn Internet wasn’t there pressuring her with constant reinforcement!  And look at what the Internet has done to Jennifer Garner!  It’s made her so paranoid about her daughter that she relentlessly stalks her entire Internet and mobile phone presence because THAT GODDAMN INTERNET RUINING EVERYTHING!

An actually good film would have looked at how the Internet affects such situations whilst still acknowledging that these are things that would happen anyway.  But, Mr. Reitman, you realised that such a road would be dreadfully boring and that increasing bewilderment over the realisation that Men, Women & Children sincerely believes that these would not be problems if it weren’t for THAT MOTHERFRAKKIN’ INTERNET is a much better choice!  I was kinda hoping you’d go the whole hog and claim that Major League Baseball was controlling the world via satellites, but I guess you wanted to reign back and settle on “crazy homeless man with tinfoil hats” as your default setting.  Understandable.

I particularly enjoyed the scene, Mr. Reitman, in which you had Dean Norris discover the Guild Wars that Ansel Elgort is into.  The way that he reacts to a keyboard input equalling a character movement in the game like a caveman does fire or a cat does its shadow?  Would have been utterly inadvertently hysterical if you hadn’t played it – much like you play everything else in this film – with this dreary, humourless tone that accurately reflects the guy at a party who thinks he’s all smart to politics and life and stuff but then he opens his mouth and you realise he’s just a f*cking idiot.  After all, we wouldn’t want this film to risk crossing over into “So Bad, It’s Good” territory, do we?  That would defeat the purpose of this whole entire exercise!

And the cast that you assembled for this thing!  Ansel Elgort – turning in a performance that is less “depressed teen” and more “sleepwalking actor” – Dean Norris – who looks incredibly hopelessly lost with his material – Jennifer Garner – turning in a performance that somehow makes her obnoxiously awful character (who the film ultimately ends up proving right a lot due to pretty much nobody being allowed to end this film happy; nice touch) even more unbearable – the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson – whose every word practically screams “can I take my paycheque now?” – Dennis Haysbert and J. K. Simmons – who both get absolutely nothing to do – the wonderful Judy Greer – committed but saddled with atrocious material – Adam Sandler’s once-every-half-decade dramatic role – wasted by getting nothing to do – and a cameo by Phil LaMarr.  It is like you were going out of your way to waste actors and actresses I like!  Bravo!

You know something, Jason Reitman?  I got you all wrong.  I thought I had pegged you for one of the new great filmmakers.  Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult…  That’s a resume that seemingly indicates a filmmaker of great skill, a storyteller who knows exactly how to pitch each scene without it coming across as either a thuddingly obnoxious morality lecture or having a thoroughly misguided moral compass.  But 2014 has seemingly proven me wrong.  Apparently you just want to make disgustingly reprehensible movies with no self-awareness of how incredibly shitty or out-of-touch the finished products come off as.

Well I salute your vision, Mr. Jason Reitman!  That was a really nice touch, too, pretending to build up an actual career before torching it near-totally in the space of 12 months in order to make me feel betrayed that a director such as yourself would voluntarily flush that talent, spark and drive down the toilet.  You absolutely don’t need to take a few years off, reflect long and hard on your last two films, realise exactly where and why everything went wrong, re-hone your skills and come back revitalised and ready to make great movies again!  I mean, why should you?  Men, Women & Children is your magnum opus: a putrid, regressive, out-of-touch, overly preachy, one-sided, humourless slog of a movie.  The kind that can only come about through sheer determination to make a film that offended and bewildered me as much as is humanly possible.

Keep up the utterly dreadful work, mate!

Yours,

Callum Petch

Callum Petch feels love.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Blended

BlendedCynical, lazy, sexist, racist, prolonged torture.  All of these descriptors and more apply to Blended.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You know, every point this year where I think that we have hit the bottom in regards to film releases, I keep getting proven wrong.  First, there was A New York Winter’s Tale back in February, still one of the worst films I have ever seen (incidentally) and a total failure in all basic aspects of moviemaking.  I was certain that we would not see anything close to its level for the rest of the year.  March quickly put pay to that line of thinking with 300: Rise of an Empire which gained points for at least passing basic filmmaking standards but immediately lost all of those points for being a hateful piece of misogynistic tripe.  The tail-end of April presented, for my consideration, Ava-Tarzan, quite possibly the worst feature-length animated film to see the light of day since 2006.  And now, as May gives way to June, we have Blended.

Folks, I do not like having to re-evaluate what the worst film of the year is every month.  Not, of course, so that I have a headline grabbing phrase to parade my review around with when the time comes (papa don’t play that way), but because I don’t like having to subject myself to films that keep striving for new levels of badness.  It’s like they’re in competition with one another.  “I’ll see your total failure at basic filmmaking conventions and raise you blacked-up actors and an attitude to women not unlike that of a psychopathic thirteen year-old!”  Only there are no winners in their contest, and we, the film-going audience, but mostly just me because I don’t have a choice in subjecting myself to these avant-garde attempts at flinging poo onto a film reel and releasing the result, suffer due to their petty game of one-ups-man-ship.

Blended is a comedy made by statisticians and accountants.  It is a comedy made by people who have not got the first clue of how to tell a joke but have seen far more talented people make a lot of money telling jokes, and so decided to make their own comedy purely to get at that money.  Of course, being statisticians and accountants, this comes with the built-in handicap of nobody involved knowing how to tell a joke.  But such an issue does not stop them from their dream of making loadsamoney as they have hatched a cunning plan.  Instead of coming up with jokes, with set-ups and punchlines and wit and insight and originality and all of those things that make up good jokes and which allow things that would otherwise cross lines of good taste pass by unscathed, they would instead simply present people with concepts that are supposedly inherently amusing and ask you to laugh at them.  Who cares if you only laughed at them in other films because they had actual craft in their construction?  Their graphs and pie charts and glances at two minute red-band trailers on YouTube show that you laughed at these topics in other films so, mathematics dictates, you will laugh here too and their film won’t offend anyone at all!

I’m just going to go straight for the jugular here, I think that Blended is racist.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with Terry Crews’ “character” (for the fully intended effect, I want you to imagine that those air quotes are as tall as a New York skyscraper) whose entire character can be summed up as “look at the funny black man with the weird voice and the crazy eyes sing the word blended over and over again!”  He comes with a back-up crew of about seven other people who look exactly like him and have the exact job description.  Crews wanders about the screen nearly always leaning forward, eyes looking like they’re ready to pop out of his skull, voice sounding like a drunk Oxford senior’s party impression of what he thinks ‘the blacks’ sound like, and the joke is the same every time.  “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  There’s no nuance, nothing profound, no grand subversion.  Just, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  It’s like a minstrel show periodically gate-crashes the rest of the film; I was waiting for Joel McHale (who appears in two scenes playing the total douche role he did far better in Ted two years ago) to show up covered in black shoe-polish to seal the sorry mess.

AND IT’S A JOKE THEY KEEP COMING BACK TO!  Again and again and again with no change in pacing or tone or content, until the realisation set in that this racist stereotype is something that everyone involved in the film thinks is legitimately funny.  Not ironically funny, not a set-up for a takedown of such outdated and offensive stereotypes.  No, it’s something that is supposedly just hilarious because “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  The other black characters (I count three with names) aren’t anywhere near as pronounced in their racist caricatures but the joke is still nearly always “Look at the black man talking with the funny voice!”  Well, except for Shaquille O’Neal.  He turns up for two scenes, for some reason, and his joke is that a man of his size and physicality cries over-dramatically at something.  I’ll let you decide if that’s a real step up or not.

I’m sorry, I thought we were past this?  I thought that we’d all come to the realisation that this kind of shit does not fly anymore?  That it was outdated and offensive?  That we’d actually have to work to get laughs from our characters of colour now by writing actual characters and actual jokes?  Say what you want about Ride Along but that at least tried writing actual characters and actual jokes for those characters, instead of going, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype saying words that sound different coming from his funny voice!”  Yet, every time Terry Crews came on screen, the audience in my screening were giggling and guffawing as if his every sequence was a classic Malcolm Tucker tirade.  I don’t get it.  How can these people not tell the difference between a clever subversion of racist stereotypes with an effective payoff (which this is not) and an uncomfortable one-note stereotype that has no substance to the joke besides the fact that he’s a walking black stereotype (which this is)?

Sorry, sorry.  I’m allowing my own moral and social beliefs to infect my judgement of a film again.  My bad.  I should leave the racism point behind and move on to my next point which is that Blended is sexist.  Question: are you a girl who dresses in a decidedly unfeminine manner?  Congratulations!  Blended thinks you’re a man or a lesbian or someone who is willingly holding themselves back from love and happiness and acceptance by society, and it won’t stop letting you know that for the whole film by constantly making fun of people who look like you and using jokes based around literally those same points I just mentioned!  I dread to think of how more sensitive people who happen to choose to style and dress themselves in an unconventionally unfeminine way will react to the constant scorn and mockery the film throws their way.  The film hints towards revealing that Jim (Adam Sandler) is practically forcing his daughters into dressing this way and participating in such a masculine lifestyle because he’s living through them or something, but nope.  Lauren (Drew Barrymore) practically swoops on in and unlocks Hilary’s (Bella Thorne) femininity and voila!  She’s actually totally gorgeous and so much happier now that she’s an actual woman and oh my gods typing these words are making me realise just how truly horrible the whole thing is.

In fact, quick sidebar: this film’s usage and treatment of Bella Thorne worries me.  For one, there are the aforementioned “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you looked like a guy” jabs which are constant, demeaning and never once deviate from exactly what I just typed.  For two, and much more problematic, I got the vibe that we, the entire audience, are supposed to find Bella Thorne super-hot.  She was 15 at the time of filming and her character in the film is 15, too.  Yet her second scene (no prizes for guessing what the first was) involves her in a bra in front of the mirror, sticking out her apparently non-existent chest for the camera and lamenting her apparent lack of breasts.  It feels creepy but maybe I could let it slide on the basis that the camera (to my recollection) does not focus totally on her chest and the fact that if this was a coming-of-age drama, or something, I’d probably not get that interpretation from the scene.

What I cannot excuse is later on, when she makes her grand womanly-charms-embracing re-entrance and the camera introduces her in the same way that other films introduce their much older female stars when they want to get across how good they look.  You know the way: camera pans up in slow-motion from their legs all the way up the body so that the last part revealed to you is their face because the face is always the least important part of a woman, apparently.  Back it with appropriately sexy music (which the scene does eventually, in a gag that I still do not understand), cross-cut to other characters’ stunned reactions and maybe blow a little gust from the wind machine in their direction and watch the number of people getting a visit from Chris Hanson shoot through the roof.  Now, you may sit there and claim that my mind chose to go there and that I’m the pervert and paedophile.  I would retort by noting that I got that interpretation from the scene because the scene employed the conventions that appear in such a sequence and if it didn’t want that interpretation, it should not have filmed it in such a way.

Also, this is a film that has a joke involving a teenage boy sexually harassing a girl who appears to be maybe three years older than him in the finale, and you’re supposed to not be offended and even find it charming because you’ve already spent 110 minutes in this creep’s presence so it’s acceptable, I guess.  Try telling me that I’m the one who is off-base about this film’s intentions.  Go on, I’m waiting.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah, Blended’s casual sexism.  So, Jim is an asshat.  A total, barely likeable asshat, much like all of Adam Sandler’s characters.  This is a character who named his child Espn after… you know what, I’m going to let you figure that one out.  He’s rude, boorish, demands fist bumps after every supposedly cool thing he ever does and, somehow, he is still a better person than Lauren is.  Lauren, you see, is often exactly like Jim (minus the fist bumps, thanks the Maker) but she always happens to cross the line whenever her and Jim are in a verbal sparring match.  She’s also shown to be a terrible mother, whose kids are a future sex offender/serial perverted murderer and a kid who may or may not have ADHD and who keeps getting his hand banged really hard on walls by Lauren because child violence is hi-larious?  Jim’s daughters, meanwhile, are a little one who just says the darndest things, the middle child who still talks to her mom (who died of cancer years ago, which the film likes to bring up for drama with Jim, and only Jim, whenever it gets the chance) and whose grief is used near-exclusively for “look at that weirdo” comedy, and the tomboy we’ve already discussed (also it’d be remiss of me not to mention an excruciatingly awful scene in which Hilary beats a boy in basketball and, when the boy is informed that she’s a girl, Terry Crews’ Minstrel Society jumps in out of nowhere to re-enforce traditional gender values with a song about how embarrassing it is to be beaten by a girl at a sport).

As for the other women in the film who are on screen for more than 10 seconds; we have a babysitter who is the target of sexual obsession by the older of Lauren’s two sons, Lauren’s alleged best friend who is shown to be a completely selfish, inconsiderate and repulsive human being at all times, an air-headed trophy wife the group stumble across on the Africa trip and whose entire character involves speaking like a bad Kristin Chenoweth impersonator and shaking her cleavage for the camera, and a group massage leader who has no character except for her poor British accent.  “Now, hold up, Callum!” you’re probably going.  “The film has dreadful male characters, as well!  It’s equal opportunities poor treatment!”  True, but I have two things I want to note to you.  The first is that, with the exception of two hecklers at a child’s baseball game and that Joel McHale cameo and I guess Lauren’s children, these are mainly black people.  Jim’s an asshat, but the film constantly tries to put him in a likeable light, more so than it does Lauren, anyway, so The White Guy is the least terrible person in the film.  The second is this fact: the worst physical humour that befalls Jim is that he is flung from an ostrich into a drinking trough.  The worst physical humour that befalls Lauren is that she is nearly speared in her vagina by a rhino that she avoids by spreading her legs like one does when they’re gearing up for sex.

Sorry, sorry.  I appear to have let my personal moral and social beliefs overtake this film review.  Again.  It’s the beginning of A4 page 4, now, and you want to know the reasons why I hate Blended that can’t be traced back to my own personal hang-ups.  OK, then.  Sandler and Barrymore have no chemistry, which is especially surprising since they’ve already done this twice before.  Every child actor or actress in this is appalling, pulling off that overly stagey “LOOK AT MY ACTING I AM ACTING SO HARD” thing that all terrible child actors and actresses do.  It is atrociously paced, withholding the ending long past the point it should appear in order to artificially pump up the run-time to two hours.  It looks extremely cheap, pretty much all of the animals are CG and not in the slightest bit convincing.  Its tone, particularly in that unnecessarily long final 20 – 30 minutes, is whiplash inducing whenever it brings up the whole “Jim’s first wife died of cancer” thing.  It practically stops at several points and becomes a tourist destination ad for South Africa.  It thinks that the height of comedy is having a shot of two CG rhinos doing each other like dogs.

Have you got enough yet or do you need me to go on?

Look, I wouldn’t make such a big stink out of this if there were jokes here.  I’m not infallible, I can acknowledge that something’s offensive but still find it funny.  If the joke’s good enough, I will laugh at it and that’s a guarantee.  But Blended has no jokes.  Again, this is a film that thinks that the concept of sexual harassment is a funny enough gag to put at the end of your film, that having a teenage boy try to claim that their mother can do better than somebody like Jim because “she’s hot” is such a funny and messed up thing that it should run that joke into the ground at every opportunity, that a grown man poorly phrasing his question about what tampon is best for his teenage daughter is just raucous material, and that foreign black people are automatically hilarious because stereotypes.  These are not jokes, these are carnival side-show attractions brought out for your amusement without any effort made in the department of them being worthy of your amusement.  It’s just “Black people: laugh!  Women who look like men: laugh!  Drew Barrymore may get impaled through her vagina by a rhino: laugh!”  So when this is all the film can be bothered to come up with, hell yeah, I’m going to fixate on the troublesome undertones it ends up peddling!  There’s nothing to distract me from them, because the jokes aren’t funny, so why wouldn’t I find them a legitimate problem?

I honestly didn’t think that Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company had any lower to go after they turned statutory rape into a light-hearted set-up for a bawdy comedy.  But, much like my continuing belief that 2014 can’t keep churning out even worse films, it turns out I was proven wrong.  Blended is lazy, cynical filmmaking; the kind of film that’s slapped together with no effort or talent and shunted out of the door on the belief that the audience will turn up to anything with a big star’s name on it.  And I think that’s why this trash angers me so.  That it’s not even trying to be offensive, it’s not trying to push any boundaries of taste for comedic effect or anything.  It wasn’t setting out to be racist and sexist or anything like that, it just turned out that way because it lazily tried to present things that it thought were inherently funny with no effort towards making them funny and no effort put into thinking of the implications of not adding jokes to these supposedly inherently funny concepts.  This is trash, trash of the lowest order.  I do, however, hesitate to say that 2014 can’t bottom out any further, because I don’t want to jinx anything.  I do not want to experience a film worse than Blended in a cinema in 2014.  Please.

I did not like it.

Callum Petch races towards an early grave.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

A Decade In Film: The Noughties – 2002

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

As this is podcaster Gerry’s idea, he’s nabbed the noughties. Here he gives us his top five from 2002 – be sure to check out the entries for 2001 and 2000 if you haven’t already done so. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these so please get in touch with a comment or on twitter.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-large-pictureI think we might have made a mistake leaving the Shire, Pippin.

The first was a towering achievement of storytelling and fantasy narrative brought to life on screen; the follow-up continued that great work and showed a generation of film fans and aspiring film-makers what epic productions are like. With more action than its predecessor, The Two Towers stepped up the cinematic intensity and silenced criticisms from some corners that the films were long and boring. Jackson builds steadily towards a triumphant final hour centred around the battle at Helm’s Deep, a battle scene which absolutely captivated my imagination as a 13 year old watching this in the cinema. I have, of course, since seen many epic films with epic battle sequences but this film is often a benchmark to compare them with. Podcast listeners will know I moaned about The Hobbit recently but as you may guess from this series, I bloody love TLOTR trilogy, and a decade on The Two Towers remains a staggering achievement, a lesson to us all on how to do exciting fantasy drama on a massive scale.

4. Spirited Away

spirited-away-large-picture-1Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember. 

Studio Ghibli films are widely regarded by cine-literate people as outstanding. Yet the majority of the population seem blissfully unaware of their work. Spirited Away is much like their other films – it gets to the heart of childhood and imagination, transporting us forward into a hitherto unseen world of the creator’s making while simultaneously catapulting the viewer back to their own youth, that sense that magic lurked so close that a wrong turn could mean you winding up in a vastly different reality to your own. That is precisely what happens in this film. Chihiro’s family end up getting lost and wandering into an abandoned theme park – her greedy parents eating the tempting food left seemingly unattended and, of course, being transformed into pigs. Fans of Disney and particularly Pixar will find much to love in this classic animation, both in thematic content and the rich visuals our senses are practically assaulted with from the word go. I don’t think it quite matches up to My Neighbour Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies (note to Matt Lambourne – they’d better be 1 and 2 for 1988) but nonetheless, this is better than 90% of the kids films you will ever see – whether you’re a nostalgic adult or a child who hasn’t yet lost that wonder at the potential marvels of the world around them. [I’ve included this for 2002 as it was released in Japan in 2001, film festivals around the world in 2002 and in the UK in 2003, making 2002 the middle ground in such a confusing and drawn out release schedule]

3. Punch-Drunk Love

punch drunk love adam sandlerI have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.

I’m not going to lie to you – I only watched this film about a month ago. I absolutely loved it. No, in fact, I fell in love with it. A mild introduction to art-house cinema for the uninitiated (or soft-core art house if you like), Punch-Drunk Love is a quirky tale featuring Adam Sandler as a possibly autistic, possibly partially psychotic entrepeneur who falls for slightly-less-odd Emily Watson.  Despite the backdrop of constant belittlement from his seven sisters, their romantic journey begins, alongside Sandler’s efforts to disentangle himself from a scam he fell into by ringing a phone sex line to chat about his life. It sounds weird and it is a bit, but if you doubt Sandler’s credentials for this then you’ve obviously never listened to Mark Kermode before. Literally the only downside to watching this film is that you will now be even more annoyed by the constant stream of utter shit Sandler is churning out these days when he is capable not only of genuinely funny films like Happy Gilmore but also excellent serious acting performances like he puts in here. Psst Adam, here’s a hint – make more films with people like Paul Thomas Anderson and less with Dennis Dugan and you might be ok.

2. City of God

city-of-godYou need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas. 

A gripping tale of corruption, poverty and crime in the underbelly of Rio de Janeiro, City of God did wonders for Brazilian cinema. I actually studied a module on Brazilian cinema in University purely based on the fact that in doing so I could watch City of God again and find out the context behind it. For all the complex and important social issues it explores, City of God has a fairly standard cinematic trope at its core: two boys grow up in the same place, take different paths in the face of external pressures, yet their lives always seem to be intertwined and meet with dramatic consequences. Famed for its use of first-time actors taken from the streets of the favelas themselves (even including the mother of one of the real-life criminals depicted in the film), there is a brutal realism to Cidade de Deus that some viewers may find unpalatable. In my view it is that harsh realism which makes the film so powerful and for it to be viewed as anything other than a strength is missing the point entirely. This war between drug lords really happened. It wasn’t nice. With brilliant cinematography that captures the lo-fi 70s vibe of the time whilst still producing stunning visuals and some iconic shots, it is no wonder that the film remains one of the most successful and well-known films in ‘world cinema’ to UK viewers. Fernando Meirelles hasn’t made the move to Hollywood big-shot as many predicted but is trying to make himself the Brazilian Almodóvar. Speaking of my mate Pedro…

1. Talk to Her

On the face of it, Hable con Ella is a pretty odd film. It centres on the solitude and inner turmoil of two men who bond over the beds of the female coma victims who they care for, the gradual entanglement of their lives – whilst in parallel the events leading up to the film’s present are slowly unravelled in flashbacks. There is a quiet power to the film which draws the viewer into this world so deeply that it is impossible to forget. Essentially, old Pedro tests how far he can push an audience (again), this time in terms of how much you’re willing to forgive because you like someone. I often say this about foreign films on the podcast but THIS IS WHAT CINEMA IS ABOUT. Tremendous performances, a director whose vision is so clear and whose skill is so well-developed that they are able to interweave symbolism and narrative to devastating effect, a story which engages throughout and an exploration of wider themes and societal issues without being preachy or ever failing to entertain.

Like all of his films are to some extent, at heart this is an exploration of gender roles. We have the two male leads crying over a performance at the ballet; a female bullfighter who is harsh and masculine, while her boyfriend is vulnerable and openly emotional; a male nurse; and a now infamous scene from the film-within-the-film which seems outrageously shocking, but is in fact less shocking than what it masks. There are a number of genuinely haunting scenes in Talk to Her, precisely because we are drawn into the drama so powerfully by the cast and crew. Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti are mesmerising. Almodóvar was under some serious pressure after the global success of All About My Mother and this was what he came up with.

In my opinion it’s his finest work – in a catalogue of films that most people in Hollywood would be proud to have in their DVD collection, let alone make. This is cinema. This is art without being arty or pretentious. This is a film about humanity, morality, imperfection, societal conditioning, sex, solitude, normality, mental illness… There is a disturbing, unsettling effect as you question your morality and precisely why you feel sympathy or empathy at certain points. It pushes you to think outside normality and ask questions of yourself and the world because it has engrossed you so totally and manipulated you so delicately. That, for me, is what cinema is.