Tag Archives: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Failed Critics Podcast: Your Toughest Opponent

hans gruber

Inviting you to listen to this podcast may make you uncomfortable. Not because we’re walking around naked, but as one of our longest episodes for a good while (at nearly one hour and three-quarters long), you may get something of a numb-bum if you listen to the whole thing in a single sitting! Unfortunately there are no ways to montage your way out of it either.

Nevertheless, in this bumper episode, your hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Tony Black to wag their fingers in the direction of the recent Oscar nominations, celebrate the life and work of Alan Rickman, and discuss a petition to actually lower the rated R status for the upcoming comicbook movie Deadpool.

As well as this, there’s room for Room, time for Creed, and for us to revel in The Revenant as we spend the latter part of the podcast discussing the three big new release reviews of this past weekend. We even take a look over what else we’ve watched in the past seven days. Brooker apologises to James Cullen Bressack for not getting on with White Crack Bastard; Steve, in tribute to Alan Rickman, revisits Kevin Smith’s 90’s classic Dogma; Owen reviews the recently released My Nazi Legacy documentary; and Tony is impressed with Ryan Reynolds after his surprising resurgence after seeing The Woman In Gold.

And that’s still not all as we start (as ever) with a quiz and Owen suffers through the first episode of Rob Schneider’s latest TV series, Real Rob, as penance for losing last week’s quiz.

You can see why it’s such a long episode!

Join us again next week as we bring back Liam and Andrew Alcock for a World Cinema triple bill.

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The Revenant

the revenant

“I ain’t afraid to die anymore… I did it already.”

Oh goody! Another “inspired by true events” film. I mean, for crap’s sake, I’m getting sick of reading “based on a true story” in trailers and at the start films. Aren’t you? And critical acclaim or not, sitting down to watch my third dramatisation of a true story in less than a week – the others being here and hereThe Revenant had absolutely NONE of my confidence.

Man. I’ve never been so happy to eat my words and stuff a bit of humble pie down my cake hole.

“Inspired” by the true story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in 1820’s Montana, The Revenant is the latest film from the Oscar winning director of last year’s Birdman and 2007’s Babel, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It stars powerhouse couple – and two of my personal favourites – Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in the good guy/bad guy one-two punch.

Set in the 1820’s, during the time of the Louisiana Purchase, Glass (DiCaprio) leads a team of hunters and trappers who narrowly survive a brutal ambush by some native tribes. Soon after escaping into the hills, Glass is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear. Stitched up to the best of their abilities by the remaining group members (including his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck)), Glass is reluctantly left for dead. Tom Hardy’s terrifying John Fitzgerald isn’t willing to wait for Glass to die and so decides to speed things up – only for Hawk to complicate matters.

Fitzgerald’s plans go horribly, horribly wrong when several miracles, a few strokes of luck and a twist of fate see Glass crawl from his makeshift grave. With revenge on his mind, the explorer must quite literally crawl after his prey. As time goes on and his body begins to heal, Hugh must brave the winter landscape, the roaming Native Americans and the wildlife to find retribution against his would-be murderer.

Man! Where to begin? Iñárritu’s direction, as expected, is stunning. The exceptionally long shots that have become a staple of his films in recent years are here in all their glory. For example, the opening ambush, filmed in one long, flowing shot, is comparable to the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan in its beauty and brutality. It is possibly one of the greatest scenes put to film in quite some time. Similarly, the bear attack is possibly the scariest, most viscerally affecting scene I’ve ever watched. As this animal literally tears strips out of DiCaprio’s hunter, every strike from those claws and every roar from this massive Grizzly had me pushing back in my seat wanting to get away from it. Every shot is beautifully framed. It looks cold, unforgiving and every splash of blood in the snow glistens beautifully.

Both guys in the lead roles are spectacular. DiCaprio’s performances over the years have always included stories of the lines he crossed pushing for the best performance he can; The Revenant is no different. Coming along with tales of making himself sick, forgetting he’s a vegetarian and chowing down on some raw bison liver, the man’s almost feral role of Hugh Glass is quite possibly his best role yet. If it wasn’t such a ridiculous ongoing joke over his constant snubbing by the Academy, I’d be screaming to give the man an Oscar for his role of the vengeful trapper. In the same vein, Tom Hardy’s cold and scary performance as Fitzgerald is maybe his best – and certainly his most terrifying since he spent his days being Charlie Bronson all those years ago. The pair chew up every scene they are in; and the ones they share – from the fast paced opener to the literally nail-biting last scene – are pure cinematic gold. And the supporting guys (including Domhall Gleeson and Will Poulter) all come together to bring you one of the most well performed movies in years.

The Revenant stands proud this year. In a sea of absolute dross chasing Academy gold, Iñárritu’s film is just a stunning masterpiece of a film that stays with you long after the lights have come up. It’s possibly the best film I have seen since last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The only reason I’m not screaming out loud for statues all around is because I haven’t seen Creed yet.

It’s not perfect, with a bit of sag in the middle that makes it feel needlessly long and some bloody awful dubbing of the native languages that stick out in such a great flick. But aside from that, The Revenant is easily in the running for the best film of the year already. Your move, 2016.

Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Bonkers, brilliantly acted, funny, completely absorbing plus other labels.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

_AF_6405.CR2For most of the latter part of last year, I had to put up with only being able to hear about and read other reviews of Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). You see, in the UK, sometimes we get films much later than in the US, excluding press/festival screenings and so on. Most of the time, that doesn’t bother me so much. But when a film like Birdman comes around, and every other review is declaring it one of the best of 2014, with as interesting a premise as it has, then that kind of sucks.

Come the 1st of January 2015, a little worse for wear with an aching hangover, I began my plans to find a cinema near me showing this existential comedy. And I did, on Friday 2nd. Since which time I have been processing, re-thinking and trying my damned hardest to work out exactly what I think of Birdman beyond simply “that was bloody brilliant.” I will endeavor to describe it – and my feelings towards it – as best I can.

It’s directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, a critically acclaimed Mexican filmmaker who is arguably best known for his first feature film, the award winning, compelling, intelligent Amores Perros. Although, virtually all of his films are just as highly regarded by the majority of people. Biutiful (starring Javier Bardem), 21 Grams and Babel too were all very well received upon release and have each been nominated for and won many different prestigious awards. It’s fair to say then than Iñárritu had a fair bit of pressure on his shoulders to produce yet another groundbreaking drama of as equally high quality.

In which case, surprising as it is, his response to this weight of expectation was to produce what is his effectively first foray into the comedy genre. In saying that, it’s not what you might describe as a typical, gag-a-minute, Airplane!-esque joke-reel. Straying away from conventions, as he did so stunningly with Amores Perros, it’s… a bit odd. Bloody brilliant. But odd.

Unlike the title probably suggests to anybody unfamiliar with exactly what Birdman is, it’s actually not a superhero film at all. It’s about an aging actor, played by Michael Keaton in a career-best performance, who used to be in a trilogy of blockbuster superhero films 20 years ago, playing the character Birdman. Obviously considering Keaton’s rise to fame playing the caped crusader Batman in Tim Burton’s series of films, it’s probably the most apt piece of casting you’re likely to see for, oh, I don’t know.. all of 10 minutes? Right up until Ed Norton appears as the most arrogant actor known to man, clearly playing on his exaggerated reputation.

Much as Keaton is now a lot older, so is his character Riggan Thomson. For the sake of Michael Keaton’s mental well-being, hopefully unlike the real actor playing Riggan, the sleep-deprived movie-star constantly hears the sarcastic voice of Birdman in his head, patronising him and making snide remarks at every turn in his desperate attempts to get his career back on track. Ploughing his own money into the production, Riggan claws at his last moments of sanity and languishes on his reputation as he pushes himself to adapt the Raymond Carver story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love as a stage play on Broadway. Gradually the toll it takes on him being writer, director, producer and starring in the lead role begins to wear him down. He notices how his own relationships to his ex-wife and rebellious daughter, as well as his co-stars and longing for adoration/attention from fans and critics alike, mimic those of the character in his play.

From the way I’ve described it above, it doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of film to make you laugh out loud as frequently as it does. In fact, I’m well aware that by putting it in black and white like that, I’ve made it sound kind of boring. The genius in the film lies with the way the story has been told and the way it has been made. It’s almost two hours long in total, however, it’s all filmed as if the whole movie is just one continuous single shot. This isn’t a completely unique concept for a film to attempt; indeed the Director of Photography on the film, Emmanuel Lubezki, was praised for very similar shots during Gravity. The twist is that the plot takes place over the course of about three days. From the early scene re-casting of one of the characters in the play at the last minute, to the disastrous preview show and Keaton’s breakdown, all the way through to the morning after the opening night; it appears as if all you’ve witnessed is one camera on record for two hours solid. The pace of the film, the way it’s been stitched together, even just little things like keeping the lighting right, it’s seamless. A remarkable achievement by all involved. I’ve read a few reviews and articles and I still cannot fathom how some of the scenes were even created.

Honestly, it is absolutely bloody brilliant from start to finish. Even something so simple as the soundtrack is, well, not so simple. Just one bloke who improvised some drum beats, banging away on his kit in a rather jazz percussion sort of way (who occasionally pops up on screen himself) fits the organised-chaotic tone.

I’ve already mentioned Keaton and Norton, but I’m still struggling to decide who was better. I genuinely, hand on heart believe this tops any performance of theirs in any other movie. And yes, even better than American History X, by the way. It’s just a joy to watch two actors simply be that good. If someone put a gun to my head (you’ll get why that’s a funny reference after you see the film), then I’d lean slightly more towards Keaton who really is sensational. He’s extremely funny, manic, completely absorbed in his role and it’s like finally seeing that guy who showed such promise in Beetlejuice just completely fulfilling his potential. And that makes me happy. It isn’t just those two, though. The entire ensemble cast, including the likes of Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis; they’re all fantastic too.

To be a bit of a dick for a minute and put a label on something (or rather take it off), I suppose it isn’t ‘perfect’. The dialogue is not always its best asset. Although I did really like Emma Stone’s performance as Keaton’s recently out of rehab daughter-turned-Personal Assistant, it’s just that some of the role her character plays seems a tad out of place. A scene on a rooftop shared with Norton starts out really well, as a chemistry between them begins to fizzle, but ends up with a rather cringing game of truth or dare. A scene later on in the dressing room between Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough was.. well.. meaningless beyond simply giving in to what the audience supposedly want.

It doesn’t detract really, it’s still overall an absolutely amazing movie. It’s so deliberately and anarchically hypocritical. One minute it’s slagging off blockbuster movies and the kinds of people who throw money at the likes of Michael Bay to make shitty Transformers movies, and studios who churn out superhero flick after superhero flick. And then in the next moment, it’s subtly mocking the pretentious, holier than thou snobs who sneer and turn their nose up at things they’re ignorant of in order to appear superior. There’s rants, there’s tirades, there’s beautifully delivered put downs and some more emotional aspects that almost catch you unawares. Yet Birdman is totally self aware, fully prepared to poke fun at itself all whilst maintaining something spectacular.

The more I’ve thought about it since leaving the cinema earlier this month, the more I’ve wanted to go and watch it again. It was the first new release film that I watched in 2015 and already it’s going to have to be a hell of a film to top it at some point during the rest of this year. I urge you to see it before it leaves cinemas!

You can hear Owen talk about Birdman plus other new releases Unbroken, The Theory of Everything and more with Steve, Gerry and Matt on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast.